July 12, 2012 | Volume 42, No. 28

Veterans' building in planning

Construction of a two-story apartment complex for veterans at the corner of Second Avenue and Dalton Street will begin next spring, said Dan Austin, general manager of the project, which is being built by Haines Assisted Living, Inc.

Funding for the project, a $6.1 million grant from the state, was approved on July 2. Demolition of the Thunderbird Motel, which occupies the site, will occur before winter.

Haines Assisted Living is still planning the building and will start engineering, architectural designs, and soil samples as soon as demolition is complete. Construction is estimated at $4.94 million.

Austin said that without HAL board approval, he could not divulge the cost of operating the building or projected rental prices, but said he’s confident that rents will cover expenses.

The complex will be open to all veterans, but is aimed at ones with moderate to low income, he said. The plan is to build 12 units on the second floor, housing one or two residents in each. A common area is planned for the building’s first floor, where services will be provided to veterans.

Three apartments will be small studios reserved for very low income veterans. The remaining nine will be open to veterans on a first come, first serve basis, Austin said. HAL will likely begin accepting applications in 2013, with occupancy beginning in summer of 2014.

In its first year, the complex will be open to veterans only, but rooms may be leased to non-veterans if there’s not demand. Veterans will have first dibs on vacancies.

Unlike Haines Assisted Living’s building, the veterans’ complex will be a place for independent living. Each unit will have a kitchen and residents will be responsible for their own shopping.

In the first-floor, common area, residents can “hang out” and receive services, such as physical therapy, Austin said. “What we’re doing is providing the physical space on the ground floor for Haines nonprofits…including SEARHC, Cornerstone, and Lynn Canal Counseling…to provide services available to the veterans.”

According to research by Juneau Economic Development Council, there are about 370 veterans living in Haines and about 8,000 in all of Southeast Alaska, and the numbers are expected to grow.

Austin said he’s confident those numbers will translate into demand. “We don’t base (projections) so much on surveys of interest as we base it on market demographics studies...and it’s a sustainable market.”

Said HAL president Jim Studley: “There’s too many veterans to say there’s no demand. We just have to make it affordable.”

Veterans will pay for the housing as well as any support services they receive. Veterans’ benefits can help pay for the services and since the housing is affordable, they won’t have to rely on public housing vouchers, Austin said.

Austin acknowledged that many veterans require more advanced care that can be found only in larger cities. “We have to be realistic. There is a limit to what we can provide.” But the intent is to offer the option of staying and to keep veteran residents in the community for as long as possible, he said.

After its board meeting next week, HAL will put out a request for qualifications for contractors.

Apartment rents will be set to the market rate for low-income, tax-credit projects, Austin said. For very low-income residents, the project itself will subsidize rent. “If a homeless veteran shows up on our doorstep and needs housing, we will house that person, regardless of how low their income is,” Austin said. “That’s the whole point of this. That no veteran shows up in Haines and has no place to live.”

HAL president Studley said the structure will be built for highest energy conservation, which Austin said would reduce operation costs to about half as much as the cost for a traditional building. A design-build contract should ensure construction funds are spent efficiently, Studley said.