Proposed budget seeks increase in homeless service funding

  • Anchorage Police Department officiers help an inebriated homeless person from a tent in this file photo. After a battle over vetoing state homeless services funding last year, Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed budget has some increases and fund shifting over the enacted levels for the current fiscal year totaling a little more than $43 million. (Photo/File/AP)

After a back-and-forth over funding for state homelessness services last year, Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed budget would keep the peace by providing about $43 million in funding to various agencies and nonprofits.

Approximately $43.5 million is included in Dunleavy’s proposed fiscal year 2021 budget, spread among the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, and the Alaska Housing Finance Corp. The proposed funding level would be about a million dollars more than the 2020 fiscal year budget ended up providing to the same agencies.

Homelessness is a chronic issue in Alaska, amid ongoing economic strife, substance abuse, mental illness and elevated housing costs. In 2019, Dunleavy’s administration proposed cutting funding for a number of programs that offered shelter and housing for homeless individuals, which led to Anchorage declaring a state of emergency to access extra funding because of the impact of the number of homeless individuals in the city no longer receiving services on the city.

The funding was eventually restored by the Legislature, but the concern over how to address the issue of homelessness in the state remained. Over the last 10 years, the number of homeless individuals identified in the state has stayed roughly level, from 1,992 in 2009 to 2,016 in 2018, according to the point-in-time count data from the Alaska Coalition on Housing and Homelessness.

The point-in-time counts are taken annually on a single day, and are not comprehensive, but rather meant to capture a snapshot of individuals identifying as homeless at a single time, taken by surveyors contacting as many individuals as they can.

Most of the funding is level from the fiscal year 2020 budget, but some have been increased or moved around. For instance, the governor’s proposed budget increases the line item for Alaska Housing Finance Corp.’s homeless assistance program by about $2.75 million, while $2 million would be cut out of the line item for AHFC’s beneficiary and special needs housing program.

About $1.5 million would be moved from one AHFC line item into another item for teacher and professional housing as well, with another $250,000 included, according to documents provided by the governor’s office.

At the recommendation of the Alaska Mental Health Trust, the House Finance Committee proposed an amendment at a Feb. 18 hearing that would increase some of the AHFC line items as well: the homeless assistance line item would increase from $7.3 million to $8.15 million and the beneficiary and special needs housing program from $1.7 million to $3.7 million, according to legislative documents.

The homeless assistance program would see a significant increase from the last fiscal year under the proposed budget, wrote Stacy Barnes, the director of government relations and public affairs for AHFC in an email. In the current fiscal year 2020, the homeless assistance program received about $4.55 million; under the proposed amendment from House Finance, that would nearly double, to $8.15 million.

“(The) Homeless Assistance Program provides funds to agencies that provide emergency or transitional housing and/or services to rapidly rehouse those who have been displaced or otherwise prevent homelessness,” Barnes wrote.

The same kind of increase would be true for the beneficiary and special needs housing program, which provides funds for planning and construction for nonprofits and developers and may provide for congregate, supportive or transitional housing, Barnes said. Last year, that program received about $1.7 million.

Last year presented challenges for AHFC, including the wildfires and earthquakes in Southcentral Alaska, Barnes said. Approximately 41 homes financed by AHFC were affected by the November 2018 earthquake that struck Anchorage and rippled throughout Southcentral Alaska, with 13 of those severely damaged, according to AHFC’s 2019 annual report. However, the overall dividend the corporation was able to provide back to the state based on its mortgage activity, investment activity and federal dollars increased, Barnes wrote.

“In spite of all of that, the financial performance of Alaska Housing Finance Corporation is healthy as evidenced by the dividend we pay annually to the state, increasing $6.6 million from FY18 to $45.6 million,” she wrote. “Dividends are often used by the governor and legislature to pay for capital project priorities established by our board of directors, and are based on a calculation in state statute that reflects 75 percent of our annual income.”

The Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development administers a pass-through federal grant that provides for community assistance projects, which will ultimately go by grant to Rural Alaska Community Action Program, or RurAL CAP. The funding goes to assist housing programs serving low- and middle-income households as well as neighborhood programs, among other services. RurAL CAP could not be reached for comment on the proposed funding levels.

The amount is determined by population and appropriation by Congress, said Glenn Hoskinson, the special assistant to the commissioner for the Department of Commerce. The amount named in the governor’s proposed budget is $3 million, slightly more than the approximately $2.6 million provided in fiscal year 2020.

“The funding will be determined through the budget process; as of yet we do not know the funding level for FY21,” she said. “Our department will work with RurAL Community Assistance Program (CAP) to develop the State of Alaska CSBG State Plan for FY21 funding.”

In addition to the Commerce Department funding, the Department of Health and Social Services administers part of the funding through programs such as emergency youth shelter services and opioid recovery housing. The DHSS did not respond to requests for comment on the funding.

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Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected].

Updated: 
02/26/2020 - 9:33am