DAYTON, OHIO—Home to second chances, this building is where 26 women, including many veterans, are trying to bounce back from homelessness, drug abuse, and mental illness.

It's only fitting that they've claimed a structure originally built to house and care for disabled soldiers who served after the Civil War. Although separated by more than a century, the vision remains the same.

“What better cause can you have than to help homeless veterans get back on track with supportive housing?” says Brian McGeady, director of multifamily development at the Miller-Valentine Group, which partnered with nonprofit housing provider Miami Valley Housing Opportunities (MVOH) on the project.

Together, they turned Building 402 on the grounds of the Dayton Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center into Ohio Avenue Commons. The result of $4 million and eight years of planning, it is believed to be the first low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) project targeted to homeless female vets and the first VA long-term lease development that is open to women, according to the developers. It's a second chance for the historic building as well. The structure had lost its original use and become a storage area, says Natalie Harris, chief executive of MVOH. Her group operates a similar 34-unit housing program for men, many of them vets, and had wanted to build a project for women.

One of the biggest challenges was securing a long-term lease. The development team worked closely with VA offi- cials to obtain a 75-year lease, which required numerous steps, including getting a green light from Congress. The long lease was a requirement of the tax credit partners. It was also necessary to have a lease longer than the 30-year covenants of the HOME funds that were used.

The work paid off when Ohio Avenue Commons opened its doors in 2008 to Carisa Dogen, 38, and other formerly homeless women.

“This means a lot,” says Dogen, who was living in a park a few months earlier. She served in the Army for a little more than a year. Diagnosed with scoliosis, a curvature of the spine, she was discharged. “When I left the service, things did go pretty bad,” she says.

She applied for different jobs but always received a rejection notice. Dogen, who has battled with addiction, lost her apartment. After months of sleeping outside, she sought help, which eventually led her to Ohio Avenue Commons.

Clean and sober for three months, Dogen says her studio apartment is helping her start over.

Residents have access to medical services, drug counseling, and programs offered on the VA campus, as well as on-site case management, job training, and financial education through The Other Place, a homeless service provider. Although preference is given to veterans, military service is not required.

The residents have incomes below 30 percent of the area median income, says Harris. Fifteen of the apartments are Shelter Plus Care units, a federal program that provides rental assistance to homeless persons with disabilities. The other 12 units receive rental assistance through CountyCorp, a nonprofit development corporation for Montgomery County. As a result, residents pay no more than 30 percent of their incomes for rent.

Financing includes $2.3 million in LIHTC equity and $679,500 in historic tax credit equity, both from Enterprise Community Investment, Inc.

Getting a commitment for the rental subsidies was key, says Ken Crawford, vice president of acquisitions at Enterprise. Ultimately, there was no hard debt used, just soft financing, he says. The Ohio Housing Finance Agency provided a $750,000 loan. The project received HOME funds in the amount of $120,750 from Montgomery County and $65,000 from the city of Dayton. U.S. Bank provided a $2 million construction loan.