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HB 50: It Passed, was Bi-Partisan, and Makes Alaska an Even Better Place to Live

A Note from Representative Les Gara

HB 50: It Passed, Was Bi-Partisan, and Makes Alaska an Even Better Place to Live

July 3, 2013

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Contact us. My office can be reached at: 716 W. 4th Ave, Anchorage, AK 99501; by phone: 269-0106; visit my website at http://gara.akdemocrats.org; or email: Rep.Les.Gara@akleg.gov

Dear Neighbors,

         In most cities and towns you can walk downstairs and there’s a coffee shop, restaurant, day care, or other things we like nearby.  I don’t know about you, but I love shoving a donut into a cup of coffee, and, frankly, downing a few (cups of coffee!) in the morning.

         But in Alaska, larger Alaska Housing Finance Corporation (AHFC) residential developments for seniors, mixed income and lower income housing, and market rate housing, could not allow a drug store, restaurant, grocery store, day care center or any business or non-profit in that complex.  Way to write laws that encouraged dullness over vibrant living.  Well, that bit of bleakness be gone!

          HB 50 removes this ban as long as the business or non-profit use is allowed under local zoning rules.  And it will result in more housing to fill our housing shortages.

          I didn’t know about the ban until one of my constituents told me he had to shut down a popular local restaurant because he had used AHFC financing to build mixed-income housing at what was formerly a downtown hotel.  That was a statewide rule, I found out, and I decided to file a bi-partisan bill to try to get this passed.  I called a Republican colleague knowing this was an issue that should receive bi-partisan support, and Rep. Mia Costello and I worked together, filed the bill as Prime sponsors, and then maneuvered the political process together, and with other co-sponsors on both sides of the aisle we were able to get the bill passed. 

          So - how will the bill help get more housing built?  Subsidized senior or low or mixed income housing doesn’t generate a huge amount of profit.  But allowing a developer to charge market rate for a bottom floor restaurant, grocery, day care center, drug store, clothing store or other business will allow AHFC or the developer to build more housing.

          That’s why it’s been supported by AHFC, housing developers, and my local community council where the downtown restaurant was going to be shut down (at the former Inlet Towers).

         We should work to make communities more vibrant.  We should work to make sure people have housing.  HB 50 does both.  And it passed unanimously.

         And before you gasp - we thought of it…. There are some things the bill doesn’t allow. AHFC can’t finance multi-unit residential housing with businesses that primarily sell, transfer or store tobacco products; or ones that offer adult entertainment; provide substance abuse treatment which we don’t want young children to walk past on their way into their homes; or sell alcoholic beverages as bars or liquor stores - unless the business is a designated restaurant that serves alcohol with meals. We were looking for family friendly businesses because families, and young children, will live with these businesses and non-profits.  I just didn’t want kids to have to start asking about cigarettes, see drunk people on their doorstep, or ask about heroin or meth at age four.  Those things can wait.

         On June 26, the Governor signed the bill into law.  The CEO of AHFC, Dan Fauske, mentioned during the bill signing that developers are already asking him to meet to talk about some development possibilities. So the bill was already working the day it became law.  Good news during a less than great session.

         As always, call with any questions.  I’m off for a fishing trip - but Toby and Lila will be in the office - and Rose will be back from maternity leave at the end of the summer.

         I hope this finds you well.

Best,

Les Gara

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