Gisela Mosley served a combined nine years in the Army and Navy before leaving the military in 2005. With two young children and little savings, the single mother moved in with various family members to try to make ends meet. She then lost one of her only safety nets when her mother died. Unexpected bills added to her troubles.
“Everything was snowballing,” says Mosley, who did everything from working in the military police to loading explosives in the Navy. “When we thought we could make it, something else would happen.”
With few options left, she turned to Veterans Affairs (VA) officials in Charlotte, N.C., who eventually connected her to a new housing program run in cooperation with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
After moving seven times since leaving the service, Mosley, 40, secured a stable home for her family with the help of a VA Supportive Housing (VASH) voucher. She's lived in her Charlotte apartment for the last two years.
Mosley's story is not uncommon. An estimated 76,000 veterans were homeless on a given night in 2009 while about 136,000 vets spent at least one night in a shelter during that year.
In June, federal officials said these numbers are falling with the most recent counts showing a 12 percent drop in veteran homelessness thanks to recent efforts by HUD and the VA. However, they still have a long way to go to meeting their lofty goal of ending homelessness among veterans by 2015.
Keys to VASH
One of the biggest efforts has been the VASH program. To date, it has 48,400 rental assistance vouchers in circulation. Most recently, HUD and the VA provided an additional $2.5 million to house 380 homeless vets through the program in June as part of a total $75 million in federal funds being invested this year to house 10,450 vets.
Supporting veterans, especially recent troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, is a popular, feel-good issue for elected officials to get behind, giving VASH rare bipartisan support. The program has been authorized by Congress since fiscal 2008, and hopes are high that it will continue to receive political backing.
Similar to the federal Sec. 8 program, VASH vouchers are provided by HUD and administered through local public housing authorities (PHAs). Veterans in the program pay no more than 30 percent of their income toward rent. Although VASH has been largely tenant-based, some can be project-based.
The key difference is the VA's involvement in referring veterans to the program and providing case management and services tailored to the population. Some of the restrictions on criminal history have also been lowered to give vets access to the vouchers.
“HUD-VASH case managers are available to the veterans to assure issues and barriers that could lead to evictions are mitigated with housing stabilization as the ultimate goal,” says the VA's Ann Shahan, one of four VASH regional coordinators.
Pinnacle Equities has close to 300 VASH units spread out among a number of its affordable housing developments. Mosley is one of the firm's residents in Charlotte.
“We look to put the residents in low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) properties that are newer and have a community center and resident services that can be used as additional tools of support,” says Stewart Hill, director of partner relations at Pinnacle, one of the nation's largest affordable housing owners.
Veterans who have been homeless are a tough group, and some property owners may be reluctant to open their doors to the VASH program. However, Hill says the vets have been good additions to Pinnacle's communities.
“Experience has shown us these are quality residents, and we have begun transitioning our VASH relationship to our broader management portfolio,” he says. “Housing veterans is our obligation as an industry, but it is also good business.”
Pinnacle has taken several steps to ensure a successful program.
“We work hard within our communities to get to know our veteran residents so we can assist them with whatever needs they may have,” Hill says. “Additionally, to mitigate any potential challenges, we focused on building strong relationships between property management teams and VA case managers.”
The VA managers visit the properties regularly to ensure veterans are assimilating and adhering to program guidelines.
Pinnacle has worked to help VASH vets who may have troubled rental or credit histories. “Since this is a voucher program we focus on the strength of the voucher and our relationships with the administering housing authority and the VA case manager,” Hill says. “If they feel comfortable with the applicant, then we can work with them to find a home for the veteran in one of our communities.”
Because many of the vets have limited money, Pinnacle instituted a program early on that allowed renters to post a bond in lieu of a damage deposit. This worked well but became unnecessary. That's because the firm's resident service outreach programs found many neighborhood groups and nonprofits that are willing to assist the veterans with damage deposits, furniture, groceries, and other essential needs.
The VA welcomes all community partnerships, says Shahan. At the local level, owners can begin by contacting the area PHA. “Most PHAs have housing lists they offer to those seeking units to occupy with their vouchers,” she says. “We always appreciate knowing where a veteranfriendly landlord has units available.”
While some owners are integrating vets into their overall affordable projects, others are developing entire projects specifically for veterans.
In Southern California, nonprofit developer A Community of Friends (ACOF) and longtime service provider New Directions are building 149 units of supportive housing on the 160-acre VA Sepulveda Ambulatory Care Center campus in North Hills.
In the works since 2002, the development had to overcome several challenges, including making sure that the housing could be designated specifically for veterans without violating Fair Housing laws.
The team took several steps to be able to create a “veterans only” project, says Dora Leong Gallo, CEO of ACOF.
First, it joined with other industry groups working at the federal level to allow LIHTC projects to serve targeted populations. The desired results were achieved in the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, which clarified that projects could favor residents with special needs or who are members of a specified group under a federal or state program or who are involved in an artistic activity.
Gallo also worked with California lawmakers to pass legislation in 2008 allowing a vets-only supportive-housing development to access the state's Multifamily Housing Program funds. A bill that was broader in scope followed a year later.
And, in a third step, the team received a letter from federal housing officials providing guidance that “veterans only” housing did not violate the Fair Housing Act, subject to other considerations.
Silver Star Apartments in Battle Creek, Mich., by Trilogy Development is another project built on VA grounds.
The benefit of creating housing on VA land is that developers will likely not have the land costs associated with building on a private lot, says Debbie Burkart, national vice president of supportive housing at National Equity Fund, Inc., which has provided LIHTC equity for several deals, including ND Sepulveda.
The other benefit is that residents on a VA medical campus will have access to different services.
“We're reaching the summit of the goal of ending homelessness among veterans,” Burkart says. “I think we may start to see some areas of the country that have high concentrations of chronically homeless veterans try to encourage not just scatteredsite housing but permanent housing options.”
A number of projects have recently opened on private land, including Hope Manor in Chicago by Volunteers of America and Kingsbridge Terrace in New York City by Jericho Project.
The developments will help more veterans like Mosley. “This apartment has meant stability,” she says. “We are happy.”
But she points out that it's not a final stop.
“This is a stepping-stone for us,” says Mosley, who is taking online classes and pursuing a career in graphic design. “It's helping us get to where we need to go. Our goal is to be self-sufficient.”
KINGSBRIDGE TERRACE AND FORDHAM VILLAGE
Kingsbridge Terrace is the newest development serving veterans in New York City. Located in the Bronx, the project, which will house 76 vets, was scheduled to open in mid-September. It is the latest development by Jericho Project, a firm with a 29- year history of helping homeless and impoverished individuals.
The group launched a veterans initiative in 2006 in anticipation of the needs of returning troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.
The effort began after Executive Director Tori Lyon attended a conference in 2004 and was seated next to representatives from a local veterans center. They told her they were already starting to see people returning from Iraq.
Lyon's research found only two permanent supportive-housing developments for vets in New York City, and both were quite old.
Her group responded by developing the $14 million Fordham Village to serve 56 vets in 2011. Its second veterans project is the $20 million Kingsbridge Terrace.
Total development cost:$20 million
Key financing sources:$15.7 million from the New York City Housing Preservation and Development's Supportive Housing Loan Program (which includes $10.6 million in TCAP/ stimulus funds)
$4 million in low-income housing tax credit authority from The Richman Group Affordable Housing Corp.
$750,000 Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.
Total development cost:$14 million
Key financing sources:$7.9 million from the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development's Supportive Housing Loan Program
$6 million in low-income housing tax credit equity from The Richman Group Affordable Housing Corp.
$106,000 from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority
THOMAS H. WYNN SR. MEMORIAL: VETERANS MANOR
On any given day, there's a waiting list of 60 to 80 people seeking a home at the Thomas H. Wynn Sr. Memorial: Veterans Manor in Milwaukee. The 52- unit project opened to formerly homeless and low-income veterans on Memorial Day 2011. There's an estimated 25,000 vets in the area who would qualify to live at the project, says Dawn Nuoffer, executive vice president at the Center for Veterans Issues, which developed the project with Cardinal Capital Management.
The project features a large commercial kitchen that is leased to the Milwaukee Center for Independence and used to prepare 4,000 meals a day for the city's choice and charter schools. A caf© that will be operated by vets is scheduled to open in the fall.
Total development cost:$12 million
Key financing sources:$6.9 million in low-income housing tax credit equity from RBC Capital Markets
$1.8 million in TCAP funds from the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority
$550,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds from the city of Milwaukee
$418,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds from Milwaukee County
Hope Manor in Chicago houses up to 80 veterans, including 50 who had been homeless. Developed by Volunteers of America (VOA) Illinois, the $14.4 million development opened its doors last December. Nationally, VOA serves more than 6,000 veterans through its housing and supportive service programs.
Built on land donated by the city, Hope Manor's first floor provides space for health services, employment training, substance-abuse counseling, a business center, and a fitness center. The upper three floors feature 30 efficiency-style apartments, 10 two-bedroom units, and 10 three-bedroom units.
The development has 30 project-based Sec. 8 units and 50 Veteran Affairs grant/per diem units.
VOA is at work planning Hope Manor II to provide housing and services to more than 70 other veteran-headed households.
Total development cost:$14.4 million
Key financing sources:$8.6 million in low-income housing tax credit equity from National Equity Fund, Inc.
$1 million in HOME funds from the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA)
$1.4 million in Equity Replacement Program funds from IHDA
$1 million in Veterans Affairs capital grant
$1.5 million from the city of Chicago
$300,000 in Affordable Housing Program funds from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago
$210,900 from the Illinois donation credit
$125,000 from an Illinois Energy Grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity
$307,859 in other Contributions
ND SEPULVEDA I AND II
Construction is under way on 149 units of supportive housing for veterans in Southern California. The housing is conveniently located on the 160-acre Veterans Affairs (VA) Sepulveda Ambulatory Care Center campus in North Hills.
A Community of Friends (ACOF), a nonprofit affordable housing developer, and New Directions, Inc., a longtime provider of services to vets in Los Angeles County, have teamed to convert two vacant medical buildings on the campus into affordable housing. The buildings are next to each other, but they are being developed as separate projects.
When ND Sepulveda I and II open next year to formerly homeless and disabled veterans, residents will be just a stone's throw away from an outpatient care center and the other services offered on the campus.
The VA expressed interest in utilizing its vacant space there for veterans housing. The development team then worked with the VA to negotiate two 75-year leases, one for each project, says Ben Rosen, senior project manager at ACOF.
Each project has its own financing package. However, both projects used a similar set of funding sources, including low-income housing tax credits, state Multifamily Housing Program supportive housing funds, and VA capital contributions. National Equity Fund, Inc., is the tax credit syndicator, and Bank of America Merrill Lynch is the investor and construction lender. The Local Initiatives Support Corp. and the Corporation for Supportive Housing provided predevelopment funding.
The projects will have a mix of project-based Department of Housing and Urban Development- VA Supportive Housing vouchers (HUD-VASH) and project-based Sec.
8 rent subsidies through the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles.
HUD-VASH was awarded through a national competitive process.
ND Sepulveda I:
Total development cost: $25.7 million
Key financing sources:$10.2 million in low-income housing tax credity equity from National Equity Fund, Inc.
$8.9 million in Multifamily Housing Program supportive housing funds from the California Department of Housing and Community Development
$6 million from Veterans Affairs
$720,000 in Affordable Housing Program funds from the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco
ND Sepulveda II:
Total development cost:$24.4 million
Key financing sources:$10.4 million in low-income housing tax credit equity from National Equity Fund, Inc.
$9.2 million in Multifamily Housing Program supportive housing funds from the California Department of Housing and Community Development
$4 million from Veterans Affairs
$740,000 in Affordable Housing Program funds from the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco