BEDFORD, MASS.—Bedford Veterans Quarters is one of the few permanent housing opportunities for homeless veterans created in greater Boston in more than 10 years.
Caritas Communities developed the project while overcoming several challenges and demonstrating that the deal could be done without low-income housing tax credits or funding from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
“We were very confident that we could fill these units quickly, and we did,” says Executive Director Mark Winkeller.
The development's furnished singleroom occupancy (SRO) units are helping to house nearly 60 of the estimated 2,000 homeless veterans in Massachusetts.
Although VA funds are not used, the project is located on the campus of the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital. By leasing land on a federal installation, Caritas Communities, a nonprofit housing provider with about 600 SRO units in the region, avoided issues of local review and local opposition that are often huge barriers for projects targeting the homeless.
However, other challenges emerged. It took about two years to assemble the financing and to negotiate a long-term lease with the federal government.
Because the project is on leased land, securing the financing was tricky.
Winkeller overcame these issues by acquiring a 55-year lease, which is 20 years longer than what was originally proposed, and agreeing to pay the loans in 10 years, which is when the Sec. 8 rent subsidies on 56 of the 60 units expire. That leaves the project debt-free when the Sec. 8 contracts' initial terms expire.
The Sec. 8 residents pay no more than 30 percent of their income for rent, and the other four units are available at $490 per month.
The financing for the $3.6 million project includes a $1.8 million loan from the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and another $1 million loan from the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Trust, which is administered by MassHousing and DHCD. Winkeller describes these as typical affordable housing subordinate debt with no current payments required as long as his group rents to qualified residents.
The town of Bedford provided a $20,000 grant, while Caritas Communities raised another $255,000 from foundations and other sources.
The Massachusetts Housing Investment Corp. provided roughly $500,000 in construction financing, and Brookline Savings Bank supplied a $525,000 first mortgage.
Bedford Veterans Quarters, which opened in 2007, has 53 rooms for men and a seven-unit wing for women. Residents share common kitchens and baths. Residents must be clean and sober for at least 120 days prior to movein. They must also have received an honorable or general discharge.
One of the lessons learned is that it is difficult to have veterans' housing be co-ed, according to Winkeller, who explains that many women vets have had a bad experience in the military and are not comfortable in a co-ed housing environment. Of the units designated for women, three were recently vacant.
More than a room
The veterans have access to medical services and programs offered on the VA campus. The residents also have on-site support staff.
“It's allowed me to be in a clean environment and close to my supports,” says Air Force vet Jonathan Parker, who credits the housing with helping him through several issues, including a bipolar condition. The setting also provides him with needed socialization. “I don't feel so isolated,” he says.