Joe Grillo’s friends call him “Gypsy.”
The name suits someone who began working at 12 years old, picking tobacco. He’s also ridden with a motorcycle club, served in the Navy during the Vietnam era, and worked as a caddie for 35 years alongside several marquee golfers, including Curtis Strange and Steve Elkington.
“There are a lot of Joes but not a lot of Gypsys,” he says.
The 64-year-old recently settled down at Victory Gardens in Newington, Conn., one of several recent communities to open around the country for homeless and at-risk veterans.
It’s a place Grillo needed as he struggled with various medical emergencies, including ulcerative colitis, pneumonia, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
“I was renting an old house, but with my disease the mold and mildew was killing me,” he says. “I was looking for something brand new.”
At Victory Gardens, he found a one-bedroom apartment that’s handicapped accessible, giving him room to navigate his wheelchair.
“One of the nice things about living here is the community is all veterans for one thing,” Grillo says. “There’s camaraderie there.”
Even with his health problems, he doesn’t consider himself disabled. He’s always like being involved in the community. “If I was in a place with a dormitory-style living, I would have that ability to do what I do,” he says. “I’m blessed to be here.”
A Solvable Problem
Other developments serving needy veterans are being built across the country. Each is unique. Some stand out because of their special focus on women, seniors, or veterans with families. Some because of the sheer scope of the housing and services they offer. And, others because of their location on or near Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities.
These projects are opening at a time when federal officials and many local leaders are working to end veteran homelessness by the end of 2015.
They say the goal is within reach, and the signs are encouraging. Last year, the number of homeless vets declined 11 percent, or 5,846 individuals from the year before, and about 33 percent, or nearly 25,000, since 2010, according to the latest numbers from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Still, there were 50,000 veterans on the streets or in shelters on a given night last January, so more work is needed.
Developers who have built veterans housing say it’s more than just putting up a building. These projects are among the toughest to develop and operate because they require rent subsidies and supportive services.
To help meet these needs, many developers are turning to the HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program. A key tool that’s credited with helping reduce the number of vets on the streets, HUD-VASH combines rental assistance from HUD with case management and clinical services from the VA.
There were roughly 70,000 vouchers under the program near the end of last year. However, about 95 percent of them were tenant-based, leading some affordable housing leaders to call for more project-based vouchers. This is important because it helps ensure the long-term viability of services at a development and makes lenders and other finance partners much more comfortable knowing that a deal has project-based assistance. Even with HUD-VASH, developments often require additional service providers and service money.
Despite the challenges, a number of developers are answering the call to build affordable housing for veterans.
Victory Gardens couldn’t be in a better location.
The 74-unit housing development is built on the VA Connecticut Healthcare System campus, putting residents in close proximity to a VA hospital and other services.
“It’s surrounded by mature trees and green space,” says Loni Willey, executive director of the Women’s Institute for Housing and Economic Development. “It’s a lovely area for our 74 veteran families.”
The Women’s Institute, which has created or preserved more than 80 affordable and supportive housing developments in Massachusetts and Connecticut, received a 75-year lease for 11 acres.
On that land, the development team created Victory Gardens, a blend of new construction and adaptive-reuse. Fifty new units were built, and an existing building was converted into 24 apartments, with a mix of one-, two-, and three-bedroom units. A community center for residents was also built.
Approximately half of the apartments are handicapped accessible or adaptable.
“We have an extensive age range of residents, from veterans who are coming out of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as Vietnam veterans,” Willey says. “We have both men and women veterans. Some families and some individuals. It’s quite the mix.”
Some residents were homeless or very close to being homeless.
The state of Connecticut provides rental subsidies so residents pay no more than 30 percent of their incomes toward rent.
The Women’s Institute saw strong demand for the housing when the project opened near the end of 2013.
“That’s probably the humbling part of something like this—when you develop 74 new homes and you have 200 qualified applicants during the initial lease up,” Willey says.
Residents have a comprehensive package of support. In addition to the nearby VA services, they receive case management and other assistance from the nonprofit Chrysalis Center.
“I like that Chrysalis has taken us all on with case management to take care of our needs, which is reassuring,” says resident Grillo. “I like the lifestyle that I can have. I can come and go as I please. It’s my own apartment.”
The total development cost of the project was $28.6 million. More than half of the funding, $17.2 million, came from low-income housing tax credits (LIHTCs) from Morgan Stanley and National Equity Fund.
LIHTC Equity from Morgan Stanley and National Equity Fund: $17.2 million
State of Connecticut Department of Housing: $5.5 million
Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston subsidized advance and AHP grant through member Webster Bank: $3.3 million
Federal Military Construction funds: $2.5 million
St. Michael’s Veterans Center
St. Michael’s Veterans Center is the answer to many needs in Kansas City, Mo.
The ambitious campus-style community brings together permanent affordable housing and supportive services for formerly homeless and at-risk veterans. The first phase of 58 one-bedroom apartments was completed last summer. The development began leasing in early July and was full by the end of August, tough proof of the high demand for the project.
The most recent point-in-time count found 200 homeless veterans in the Kansas City area, but other estimates put the area’s homeless veteran population as high as 1,800.
A second phase, which will add another 59 units and 7,500 square feet of service and community space, is expected to begin construction around March. A third phase is also planned by developers Yarco Co. and Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
“We wanted to take it a step beyond just building a one-off building,” says Michael Grube, director of development at Yarco. “That’s where the campus idea came from. At the end of the day, we hope to have at least three buildings, with roughly 180 units of housing.”
Recognizing that some residents may suffer from depression or feel isolated, the initial building was designed with several areas for residents to interact, including classroom space, a large exercise room for physical therapy, a community room, and smaller lounge areas where two or three people can talk or play cards. “The idea is to get residents out of their rooms and socializing,” Grube says.
The team has also launched a training program for residents to become certified maintenance technicians. That will put them in position to be hired by area apartment communities and other employers. Catholic Charities, the nonprofit partner, is coordinating other key supportive services.
St. Michael’s is also important to the larger neighborhood. Located close to the Kansas City VA Medical Center, the 24-acre property had sat vacant since an old apartment building was demolished about a quarter of a century ago. Kansas City leaders sought proposals for the property and selected the St. Michael’s project.
“The city was looking for a use that would be a catalyst for redevelopment of the site and also a catalyst to bring more investment into the neighborhood,” Grube says.
In structuring the first phase, the development team worked to make sure the deal did not carry any hard debt. This was important because it’s going to allow any surplus cash to support additional services and maintain the campus.
The $11 million was financed largely with the help of U.S. Bank, which provided nearly $10.2 million in federal and state low-income housing tax credit equity, a $683,000 Affordable Housing Assistance Program (AHAP) donation, and a $6.9 million construction loan in participation with the Missouri Housing Development Commission. AHAP is a state housing production tax credit program.
“St. Michael’s does a great job of honoring the tenants who live there and the service they have given,” says Joel Oliver, project manager and assistant vice president at U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corp., the community development subsidiary of the bank that partnered on the financing.
Federal and state LIHTC equity from U.S. Bank: $10.2 million
State Affordable Housing Assistance Program donation from U.S. Bank: $683,000
HOME loan from Missouri Housing Development Commission: $400,000
Blue Butterfly Village
Blue Butterfly Village will be one of the first affordable housing developments in the nation focused on formerly homeless women veterans and their children.
Located in the San Pedro community of Los Angeles, the 74-unit project is being developed by Volunteers of America Greater Los Angeles (VOALA) and the Volunteers of America national office.
Seeing a growing number of women vets and recognizing that they may have an especially difficult transition into civilian life, the organizations decided to build a project for them.
“We want it to be a sanctuary for these women and their kids,” says Bob Pratt, president of VOALA.
Los Angeles has the largest number of homeless veterans in the nation, about 3,700, which is more than twice as many as New York City, which has the next largest number. Nationally, women account for 10 percent of the overall homeless veterans population.
The development, which will begin welcoming its first residents around February, is located on a former U.S. Navy base. As part of the base closing and reuse process, the Navy donated the site to the nonprofit through a 99-year ground lease.
“It’s an idyllic location surrounded by a butterfly preserve,” Pratt says. “You’re in the city but you feel like you are in the country.”
The development involves the rehabilitation of former military housing that was left vacant when the base shut in 1997. The townhome-style buildings were relatively new, built around 1990, and well constructed. Some units looked like they had not even been used.
Although the buildings were in good shape, the VOA team had to complete extensive infrastructure work, including bringing in all new utilities.
The VOA national office stepped in to help the $31 million project obtain critical financing, including 9 percent LIHTCs. Blue Butterfly Village failed to get a housing credit award on its first attempt because its location is a ways from public transit and other amenities, which made it tough to score all the needed points, according to Michael Seltz, vice president of housing development in the VOA national office.
However, the project’s score was high enough to earn an allocation of credits on it second try in 2013.
The LIHTCs were central to the deal, providing about $18.4 million in equity from investor Bank of America Merrill Lynch and syndicator National Equity Fund.
There will be 73 two-bedroom apartments for residents earning no more than 30 percent, 40 percent, and 50 percent of the area median income plus one manager’s unit.
Fifty units will have project-based Sec. 8 vouchers from the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles. Some residents are also expected to utilize HUD-VASH vouchers.
VOA will provide supportive services to the residents, including case management. Children will also benefit from a Head Start program.
LIHTC equity from Bank of America Merrill Lynch and National Equity Fund: $ 18.4 million
Navy land donation: $6.6 million
Los Angeles Housing Department soft loan: $2.7 million
California Housing Finance Agency/Mental Health Services Act soft loan: $1.3 million
Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco Affordable Housing Program through member Bank of America Merrill Lynch: $1 million
The Home Depot Foundation grant: $500,000
Deferred developer fee: $600,000
The Odyssey Family Residences will soon provide 36 apartments for women veterans and their families in Denver.
Named after the Greek poem about hero Odysseus’ long journey home after the Trojan War, the new development also has a big story to tell.
It begins with the Empowerment Program, a nonprofit that has been providing services to women since 1986. Executive Director Carol Lease noticed more women vets utilizing her programs, and it made sense that the organization’s latest development would focus on this population.
“Our strategy is to do comprehensive services so we have housing, drug treatment, mental health treatment, education, and employment services,” she says.
The Empowerment Program teamed with developer J. Mercado and Associates and Community Capital Corp. on the Odyssey.
The development is built next to the old Elyria Elementary School, which later served as a community theater and cultural center. Throughout its different uses, the building has been the cornerstone of the neighborhood. When the property became available several years ago, Jim Mercado, principal of J. Mercado and Associates, purchased it. He also acquired an adjacent parking lot, where he could develop a new building that would work in connection with the historic school.
His plan has come together. The team is building the three-story Odyssey on the old parking lot. The apartments are scheduled to completed around the end of March.
The vast majority of women who move in will have been homeless, according to Lease.
“The big thing for Empowerment is we’ve never had children in any of our housing,” she says. “We’ve focused on homeless single women. We’ll have 12 families (at Odyssey). There are 12 two-bedroom apartments and 24 one-bedroom apartments. We will have children in our building.”
The team has also renovated the school building. About 25 percent of the space will be used by the Empowerment Program for programs that will serve Odyssey residents.
Overall, there about 6,600 homeless people in the Denver metropolitan, including more than 400 veterans, according to the 2014 point-in-time homeless count figures.
In addition to helping the future residents, the new project looks to be good for the area.
“It’s an older blue-collar neighborhood,” Mercado says. “It’s been very receptive because we’re bringing in more population.”
The Odyssey is the first major reinvestment in the neighborhood in probably 15 years, he says.
Key financing for the $7 million project included $5.3 million in LIHTC equity from investor MetLife and syndicator National Equity Fund. The project received an allocation of housing credits on its third try from the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority.
One of the big challenges for the team has been working in Denver’s robust construction market.
“There are thousands of units under construction in this market right now,” says Ken Hoagland, president of Community Capital. That’s made it tough to find contractors and to nail down costs.
LIHTC equity from MetLife and National Equity Fund: $5.3 million
City of Denver, HOME and HUD Economic Development Initiative funds: $686,980
State of Colorado Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds: $350,000
The Home Depot Foundation, Northrup Grumman, Discount Tire foundation funds: $230,000
Colorado Division of Housing, Colorado Housing Investment Fund: $215,000
Denver Office of Economic Development loan assumption: $100,000
Developer secondary financing: $118,423
Ten formerly homeless veterans have a place of their own at the Sunnybrook Apartments in Raleigh, N.C.
The project was developed by CASA (Community Alternatives for Supportive Abodes), a nonprofit that focuses on housing for extremely low-income people with disabilities. Located near a veterans service center, Sunnybrook is the organization’s first development to target vets.
While many other affordable housing communities are financed with LIHTCs, the 10-unit project had to find another route.
“It’s too small to be a tax credit project,” says CEO Debra King, who has been with the organization for 18 years and still finds the job humbling.
To build the $1.2 million Sunnybrook development, CASA pulled together funding from the city of Raleigh, Wake County, and HUD.
Several Sunnybrook residents have tenant-based HUD-VASH vouchers, but CASA is looking to make the development a project-based HUD-VASH property.
Although the development is small, it’s no less important. “We were already full when we opened,” King says.
The organization plans to open 10 more apartments in a second phase of Sunnybrook in 2015.
“It may seem like a small number of units in some ways, but we know what it means for someone to get a home,” King says. “Our hope is when someone moves in with us, they never become homeless again.”
City of Raleigh HOME funds: $426,860
HUD Federal Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act funds from HUD: $400,000
Wake County HOME funds: $386,000
The Hardy Williams Veterans Center
Low-income veterans 55 years and older will be moving into The Hardy Williams Veterans Center in Philadelphia early this year.
With no advertising, about 1,000 applications flooded in for one of the 60 affordable apartments months before the housing was completed, says Stephen Mott, director of strategy and external affairs at HELP USA, a nonprofit housing and homeless services organization that has developed more than 2,000 units of transitional and permanent supportive housing since 1986.
Founded by Andrew Cuomo, the organization began in New York City and has expanded into several other states.
Its newest development is named after former Pennsylvania state Senator and decorated Air Force Officer Hardy Williams.
Twelve units will be set aside for formerly homeless veterans, and the others will all serve vets earning no more than 60 percent of the area median income. In addition to the 60 affordable apartments, there is a manager’s unit.
Public Health Management Corp. will provide supportive services and access to health care. The development will have two exam rooms for visiting nurses and medical services.
The $14.2 million development is financed largely with LIHTCs, which generated about $11.5 million in equity. TD Bank is the investor, and National Equity Fund is the investor
LIHTC equity from TD Bank through National Equity Fund: $11.6 million
City of Philadelphia HOME and Housing Trust funds: $2 million
The Home Depot Foundation: $200,000
MetLife grant through National Equity Fund and LISC “Bring Them Homes Veterans Initiative”: $50,000
Citi Salutes grant through National Equity Fund and LISC “Bring Them Homes Veterans Initiative”: $40,000
Re-invested Developer’s Fee: $363,782
Veterans from World War II to the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are living at Liberty Village in Amityville, N.Y.
Built on the former North Amityville Armed Forces Reserve Center site, the new 60-unit community provides apartments for 48 individuals and 12 families, says developer Ralph Fasano, executive director of Concern for Independent Living.
His organization, a leading nonprofit provider of supportive housing, obtained the site through the Base Closure Community Redevelopment and Homelessness Act of 1994, which provides local communities the opportunity take over closed military bases to give special consideration to the needs of the homeless. The $21 million development involved building new housing as well as converting an existing building into an office and community space.
“We’re finding veterans appreciate having a community,” Fasano says. “This is wonderful housing.”
Also, on the positive side, the community response was more supportive than it would have been for other affordable housing, he says. However, there were still obstacles to overcome.
“One of the challenges was getting all of the approvals in a timely fashion so we could meet the deadline that came with the award of LIHTCs,” Fasano says.
The development team had just nine months from the time of receiving a reservation of housing credits to breaking ground. This is because in the competition for LIHTCs special consideration was given to projects that could go into production quickly.
Concern for Independent Living needed to get approvals from the Department of Defense to build on the federal land. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) became an early supporter and helped move the process along.
Thirty of the units have project-based HUD-VASH vouchers, and eight have Sec. 8 vouchers. The remaining apartments are also made affordable to residents, says Fasano, noting that a non-subsidized one-bedroom apartment rents for $300 per month.
His organization is working on another veterans project on Long Island. The 59-unit Concern Ronkonkoma in Lake Ronkonkoma is scheduled to be completed in 2015.
Bank of America Construction Loan: $11.4 million (paid off through the tax credit equity)
LIHTC equity from Bank of America and National Equity Fund: $13.1 million
New York State Homeless Housing and Assistance Program Grant: $4.5 million
New York State Office of Mental Health Capital Grant: $1.5 million
Suffolk County Infrastructure Development Grant: $1.5 million
Federal Home Loan Bank of New York Affordable Housing Program through member Astoria Bank: $1 million
Hope Manor II
Hope Manor II is one of the first large-scale supportive housing developments for veterans with families.
Located in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood on the South Side, the new community is home to 73 households. About 40 percent of them are headed by women veterans, estimates Nancy Hughes Moyer, president and CEO of Volunteers of America of Illinois.
Hope Manor II opened its doors in 2014 and has a waiting list of 400 people.
“The need was tremendous,” says Hughes Moyer. “We’re grateful we were able to build something that was so important and so needed.”
The development follows the organization’s first Hope Manor project, which primarily serves single adults and is located on the West Side. Rather than copying that celebrated development, the VOA team decided to broaden its scope by serving veterans and their families in Hope Manor II.
Built on several parcels of land donated by the city, the $23 million project is a campus-style community featuring apartments, townhomes, and six-flats surrounding a 21,000-square-foot park and playground for residents. The first floor of the main building is devoted to services that support the veterans and their children.
Housing for veterans seems like an idea that many communities will eagerly embrace, but that’s not always the case. The first Hope Manor faced tough NIMBY opposition.
“Whenever you put the word homeless in front of any population, you’re going to raise community rancor,” Hughes Moyer says.
Going into the second project, Hughes Moyer made it a point to stop talking about the development as serving homeless veterans. Instead, she would say “veterans struggling with housing stability” or “veterans struggling with economic stability.”
She’s a believer in the value of developments that specifically target vets. “The peer support component in veterans programs is so powerful,” she says. “It’s a huge advantage not a disadvantage to concentrate that population in a single development.”
VOA of Illinois has another veterans housing project in the pipeline. It is in pre-development on a project in Joliet, Ill.
John and Jill Ker Conway Residence
Officials broke ground on the John and Jill Ker Conway Residence in Washington, D.C., in November.
The building will feature 124 efficiency apartments, including 60 units of permanent supportive housing for formerly homeless veterans. There will also be 64 affordable units, with 47 prioritized for households earning no more than 60 percent of the area median income and 17 for residents earning no more than 30 percent of the AMI.
The $33 million development is a collaboration between nonprofit Community Solutions and McCormack Baron Salazar, a leading developer of mixed-income and mixed-use developments.
Designed by Sorg Architects, the 14-story building will be striking with its silvery white metal paneling and distinctive “stacked blocks” shape. The staggered blocks take advantage of views toward the Capitol and the National Mall. Breaking the building down to smaller vertical blocks also reduces its scale to create smaller, intimate spaces within, according to Suman Sorg, principal of Sorg Architects.
The permanent supportive housing units will employ the Housing First model, in which people experiencing homeless are connected immediately to permanent housing along with supportive services. Case managers will be onsite to help residents address health, employment, and mental health needs in collaboration with the District of Columbia VA Medical Center.
The community is named after Jill Ker Conway and her late husband, John, a World War II veteran. She is a Pulitzer Prize –nominated memoirist and historian. Chair of the Community Solutions board, she was the first female president of Smith College in Northampton, Mass. John Conway was awarded the Military Cross for heroism as a company commander with the Canadian Infantry in World War II.
The financing included low-income housing tax credits, tax-exempt bonds, and federal HOME funds. RBC Capital Markets provided the equity, and Bellwether Enterprise provided the first mortgage.
Other financing partners include D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development,
D.C. Housing Finance Agency, D.C. Department of General Services, Chase Community Development Banking, Citi Community Development, and Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh. In addition, significant philanthropic support was provided by The Home Depot Foundation, The William S. Abell Foundation, and The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation.
LIHTC equity from RBC Capital Markets’ Tax Credit Equity Group/JPMorgan Chase: $9.8 million
Bellwether Enterprise first mortgage proceeds: $5.9 million
D.C. Department of Housing and Economic Development HOME funds: $7 million
District of Columbia other funds: $5.3 million
Private foundation support: $4 million
Deferred fee, accrued interest, and GP capital contribution: $827,282
The Commons at Garden Lake
The Commons at Garden Lake, a 75-unit permanent supportive housing community for veterans, is under construction in Toledo, Ohio.
National Church Residences expects to complete the $12.5 million development this summer.
The community has received approval for 35 HUD-VASH project-based vouchers. It is the first project-based approval under the program in the state.
The VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System will partner with National Church Residences to provide supportive services.
The Commons at Garden Lake is the second of National Church Residences’ permanent supportive housing communities for veterans. The first was the Commons at Livingston in Columbus, Ohio. A third is planned for Atlanta.
LIHTC equity from The Huntington National Bank and National Affordable Housing Trust: $9.2M
City of Toledo HOME funds: $300,000
HUD Supportive Housing Program, Toledo Lucas County Homelessness Board: $316,920
Federal Home Loan Bank of Cincinnati Affordable Housing Program: $1,000,000
Ohio Housing Finance Agency Housing Development Assistance Program: $600,000
Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Lucas County: $500,000
The Home Depot Foundation: $100,000
National Church Residences Deferred Fee: $433,500
The Huntington National Bank – construction loan
Mather Veterans Village
Construction was set to begin on Mather Veterans Village in Northern California at the end of 2014.
Developed by Mercy Housing California, the project is being built on 3.7-acre site at the former Mather Air Force Base in Rancho Cordova and a block from a hub of VA medical service. The first phase will feature 44 one-bedroom and six two-bedroom permanent supportive homes for disabled and formerly homeless veterans. An existing building on site, the infirmary, will be adapted to provide offices, meeting and community space.
The remainder of the infirmary will be part of a second phase that will have up to 60 beds of transitional housing operated by Veterans Resource Centers of America (VRCA). A third phase will add 50 more permanent supportive homes to the site.
Comprehensive on-site support services will be organized and provided by VRCA in partnership with the VA and Mercy Housing along with other partners. Services will include health care, substance-abuse counseling, case management, assistance in applying for VA benefits, and employment servie=ces.
The first residents are expected to move into their homes in April 2016.
Financing partners include Wells Fargo, city of Rancho Cordova, Sacramento County, HUD, California Department of Housing and Community Development, California Tax Credit Allocation Committee, Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency, Sacramento Veterans Administration Medical Center/ VA Northern California Health Care System.
Haverhill Veterans Housing Initiative
The Haverhill Veterans Housing Initiative will bring 27 affordable rental homes to veterans and their families in Haverhill, Mass.
The development is being spearheaded by the Veteran’s Northeast Outreach Center and the Coalition for a Better Acre. The developers were working to close on the $5.7 million project’s construction financing at the end of 2014. The Massachusetts Housing Investment Corp. is providing $2.5 million in LIHTC equity.
Plans call for seven of the apartments to be fully handicapped accessible.
“The project has a preference for veterans and their families, so there is a range of units from studio apartments to one bedrooms, a two bedroom and a few three bedrooms,” says Meena Jacob, senior project manager at the Coalition for a Better Acre. “All residents are eligible for supportive services that will be provided through the Veteran’s Northeast Outreach Center, which has a proven track record of excellent and reliable supportive services for this population. The Veterans Northeast Outreach Center is adjacent to one of the buildings and in close proximity to the other two. The building design itself has an energy-efficient building envelope.”