Juneau Assembly OKs up to $2,000 to households in rent and mortgage relief

Special Assembly Meeting Thursday, October 1, 2020

Zoom Webinar & FB Live StreamMeeting No. 2020-43 https://juneau.zoom.us/j/95438007830 or call: 1-346-248-7799 Webinar ID: 954 3800 7830 https://packet.cbjak.org/MeetingView.aspx?MeetingID=1368&MinutesMeetingID=-1&doctype=Agenda

Posted by City and Borough of Juneau on Thursday, October 1, 2020

Juneau officials approved millions of dollars in pandemic relief Thursday. That included a program to pay households up to $2,000 in rent, mortgage or utility relief — by the end of the year. 

They also gave a major boost to the Glory Hall homeless shelter’s effort to build a new campus near the airport.

The Juneau Assembly approved about $7.3 million in new grants, funded by the federal CARES Act. 

A big chunk of that, $3 million, is for residential rent, mortgage and utility relief. Eligibility would be limited by household income, less than $94,240, among other things. 

Erin Walker-Tolles is the executive director of Catholic Community Service, which will administer these grants. They’re modeled after a program in Ketchikan. 

“We’re very fortunate, Ketchikan did all the heavy lifting for us. So, I wouldn’t expect it would take us more than a couple weeks, to get, you know, accepting applications in the door and processing them. … In two weeks, three weeks tops,” Walker-Tolles told the Assembly on Wednesday.

Another $2 million is going to a local business grant program started earlier this year. The Juneau Economic Development Council is administering that and requested the additional money due to high demand. 

The Juneau School District will get $1.7 million for technology, and losses related to lower enrollment and distance learning expenses. 

Travel Juneau is getting $384,000 to pay for a destination travel marketing campaign.

Two Assembly members, Loren Jones and Maria Gladziszewski, voted against this. They doubted it would be effective during the pandemic. 

Some of that money will also go toward accreditation of businesses with safer operating practices. 

Mayor Beth Weldon summed why she was for it.

“Trying to make Juneau a safe place for visitors also makes it a safe place for our residents,” she said. 

The final CARES Act funded grant was $175,000 to fund a pilot program for COVID-19 testing and monitoring of local businesses’ employees.  The Greater Juneau Chamber of Commerce will handle that grant.

The Assembly has an end-of-year deadline to spend the city’s share of CARES Act money. It has now spent or committed about 90% of the $53 million the city is entitled to. About $5 million is left. 

More CARES Act funding pitches are slated for the Assembly’s Oct. 26 meeting. 

One assembly member, Alicia Hughes-Skandijs, said she plans to propose a program to make direct payments to locals. She said she’d like something similar to the program Skagway implemented. Another, Greg Smith, said he would propose additional CARES Act funding for housing assistance. 

And, the general manager of Eaglecrest Ski Area has requested an extra $182,000 to operate more safely this winter. The plan includes additional staff to manage the crowds, and new tents and tables to create outdoor spaces to limit time indoors. City officials said Wednesday that some portion of that request is likely to be CARES Act eligible.

In non-CARES Act business, the Assembly granted $2.3 million to the Glory Hall for its new emergency shelter and soup kitchen near the airport. The commitment is expected to help the Glory Hall land more grants from the Rasmuson Foundation and the Alaska Mental Health Trust.

Longtime Juneau resident Laraine Derr has been part of the fundraising effort, and others.   

“Raising money to move The Glory Hall was one of the easiest. It took less than four months,” Derr said. “Why so fast? People in Juneau see the need for individuals who experience homelessness and suffering, and mental health issues and substance abuse disorders to have access to help. The construction of the new Glory Hall cannot wait and must begin soon.”

Local donors have already raised half a million dollars for the project. 

This story has been updated and expanded with news from the meeting.