St. Vincent de Paul general manager Dan Austin looks out onto the land where the new senior housing facility will be built. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)Juneau nonprofit St. Vincent de Paul and partner agency Seattle-based GMD Development have been awarded $9 million in tax credit financing from the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation. The award will allow the agencies to build 41 units of affordable housing in the capital city for low income seniors.Download AudioThomas Smith is 70 years old and lives in St. Vincent de Paul’s transitional housing for people getting out of homelessness. He’s excited about the new senior living facility.“Because that means within two years, I can move out of this room and move into my own apartment with a kitchen,” Smith says. “I’m really a good cook and I love my kitchen but I don’t have that here. I have to use a communal kitchen across the way.”Smith has Parkinson’s disease and other medical conditions that necessitate a wheelchair. He takes eight daily medications. Between social security, senior benefits and general assistance, Smith makes about $1,100 a month. He can’t afford Juneau’s housing prices.“The rents are so high. I would have to give up eating in order to move into, say, an apartment that cost $750 a month,” he says. “The bills I need to pay for and the medications I have to buy that Medicare will not pay for – it’s very difficult to get by from month to month.”Dan Austin is general manager of St. Vincent de Paul. He says Smith would be one of the first people to move into the new facility. Austin says some people spend up to four years on the waiting list for the organization’s current 24-unit senior housing.“The only turnovers here are when somebody goes to the nursing home or somebody passes away,” Austin says.The percentage of Juneau’s population age 65 and older has doubled in the last 10 years. Seniors now make up 10 percent of the city’s overall population. A recent Juneau Senior Housing and Services Market Demand Study found that in next two decades, seniors will make up 20 percent of the city’s population.Austin sees that growth reflected in St. Vincent de Paul’s shelter.“Over the last five and 10 years, we’ve seen the percentage of seniors who are homeless looking for some place to live increase exponentially,” he says.The new facility will be a mix of studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units with commercial space on the ground floor. The retail space will house the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store. The complex will be built on a lot adjacent to the nonprofit’s current property near the airport.The target population is low to moderate income seniors. Austin has been working on the project for 10 years and is happy to see it come into fruition. He hopes to break ground late next summer.“Having worked here for 20 years and watching this organization grow from 10 units of homeless apartments for homeless families to an organization that now owns and manages 124 units throughout this town, what that means to me is, it’s not 124 units, it’s a 124 families that have a decent place to live,” Austin says.St. Vincent de Paul also plans to renovate two existing housing facilities in Juneau and one in Haines. Once those projects and the senior facility are done, the organization will own and manage about 200 units in the capital city.Norton Gregory says every unit and every house built in Juneau is a step in the right direction. Gregory sits on the Juneau Affordable Housing Commission. He says the 41 units will target a population the commission sees as one of the most vulnerable.“We have a lot more seniors that are aging out of the workforce and unfortunately they may not be able to afford to live in our community without these subsidized rental units, so to give them more options is definitely going to make an impact on our community,” Gregory says.St. Vincent de Paul’s new senior housing facility is expected to be complete by fall of 2016. The project was named the Home Run by a board of directors member who said to Austin, “‘If we get this, man, we hit the home run.’ So that’s what it is. For St. Vincent, it’s a home run.”Austin says Juneau needs many more home runs.
Since I started playing Minecraft with my buddies when it released a few years ago, I have been amazed by the amount of talent (and time) people have to recreate some amazing things using the in-game toolset. From seeing a life-sized Enterprise from the Star Trek franchise to walking through a voxel version of BioShock’s Rapture, I’ve done my fair share of envying the skills with which those objects were created.However, this past weekend I was exposed to what I would call one of the most impressive building achievements I have ever seen in Minecraft: a full recreation of Disney World in Florida brick-by-brick including resorts and hotels. If that wasn’t enough to impress you, how about the fact that every single ride including Space Mountain and Pirates of the Caribbean actually works inside the game?To get more insight into this awesome project, I was able to spend some time on the phone with the leader of the MCDisney effort, David Wasman. Check out the video trailer of the work he and his team has done above, then continue reading below to get some details from my interview with Wasman.It’s obvious from the first minute that I started speaking with Wasman that he and I had two things in common: our love of all things Disney and our obsession with Minecraft. A 42-year old political operative who lives in Florida, Wasman first moved to the Sunshine State at the same time that Disney World opened its doors to the public. Being so close to the happiest place on Earth helped to develop a love for the amusement park, leading him to work there for a brief time–experience that would come in handy for the MCDisney project.Work on the recreation actually began very early on when Minecraft first released. Wasman began building it on his own during his spare time. Of course, with a chore of the magnitude that he set out for himself there simply wasn’t enough time in the day to feasibly get the job done. Placing it on the back burner for a bit, it wasn’t until the last four or five months that things got going in earnest. By recruiting 25 different “Cast-Members” from around the world, Wasman worked hard to gather some of the most talented Minecraft builders he could find. By leveraging sites like Reddit, Wasman who is also known as therealduckie was able to communicate with active members of the Minecraft sub-Reddit to find the people he was looking for.His hard work in this area shows as I was able to download and tour a build of the MCDisney world that included a finished Magic Kingdom to explore. Recruiting some of my various geek friends, we wandered through the different lands of Disney’s premiere theme park, astonished at the level of detail Wasman and his team put into their creation. If you have ever had the pleasure of visiting Disney World, you will have no problem identifying Main Street with all of its shops, or Splash Mountain next to its little brother Big Thunder Mountain. Honestly, it’s a bit eerie to walk around since it feels like there should be a lot more sound and activity.As mentioned above, the work that Wasman and his team put in isn’t limited to window dressing, they actually built the interiors of the different buildings to look almost exactly like the real thing. Case in point is Cinderella’s castle, not only can you take a walk into where you can have a meal at the Royal Table, but you can also ascend into the legendary apartment turned into a hotel room inside the top of the building.Another inclusion that my friends and I had a ton of fun with are the infamous underground tunnels that are used by the real-world cast members to quickly travel through the park. Finding the entrances to said tunnels became an entertaining activity in itself!Wasman told me that these tunnels, like the one pictured above, were where he and his staff were going to be storing the different parade items. You didn’t read that line wrong, on the actual production server for MCDisney not only are all the rides working, but each day they hold a parade just like they do in the parks. If you aren’t amazed by that, I don’t know what will do it for you.Overall, the thing that struck me the most is the passion with which Wasman talks about the MCDisney project. He’s so committed to maintaining it and opening it up to the public that he is fronting all the server costs himself each month. He doesn’t ask for or takes any donations, he charges no admission and has no plans to. You can imagine what the hosting bill must be like each month since the team uses three different servers, one for cast-member tryouts, another for testing purposes, and one for just doing whatever you wish. To become a cast-member, you must be involved on the projects forums and be active in the world as far as a visitor. You also must be able to actually build and execute some pretty intricate functionality inside the game, so if you just bought it the other day give yourself some time to learn the ins and outs first.If you want to experience MCDisney for yourself (and I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t), you have a couple of choices. You can download a build of the world that doesn’t include a lot of the awesome stuff the production server has, and install it locally, or you can connect to the live MCDisney server and take a tour. I encourage you to check out the live server before downloading it, you can get someone to walk you around and help to experience some of the rides and watch the firework show that goes on every night. Either way, you can’t really go wrong.Many thanks to David Wasman for spending time on the phone with me, sharing his passion, and the backstory.Read more at the MCDisney site.