On the San Francisco Peninsula, market-rate rents have skyrocketed and housing supply has lagged relative to job growth, pricing many veterans out of the area and pushing them farther away from their health-care providers.
But for some formerly homeless veterans and veterans at risk of homelessness, they now have permanent stable housing near a wealth of services.
Co-developed by The Core Cos. and EAH Housing, the 60-unit Willow Housing is located on the edge of the Veterans Affairs (VA) Palo Alto Healthcare System in Menlo Park thanks to the VA’s enhanced-use lease program.
“The VA owned this prime real estate and was willing to set it aside for smart development. That was really key to making this possible,” says Darci Palmer, development manager of affordable housing at Core.
The majority of Willow Housing residents are Vietnam-era veterans, with a high proportion who have mental or physical disabilities and who were chronically homeless. Health-care services are located on the VA campus, and shuttle service is provided to other health-care providers in the system nearby. A supportive-services provider also is on site to provide case management and resident services.
According to Palmer, the resident services coordinator works to facilitate more connections with the community, especially with Stanford University and other big employers nearby. “There’s a lot of interest in supporting veterans in the community,” she says. “The hope is to build more of those connections.”
The development was completed at the end of 2015 and leased up quickly, with a wait list of nearly 200 qualified households. The units are set aside for residents earning 30% and 40% of the area median income. The developers secured 35 project-based Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)-VA supportive housing vouchers, with another 16 households already being served by vouchers.
“I’ve seen that the veterans carry themselves differently,” says Palmer. “There’s a pride, an optimism, and a hope for new beginnings in their lives.”
Amenities at the LEED Gold development include a raised vegetable bed, outdoor gathering space, a fitness gym with free weights and cardio machines, and a community room. The project is also welcoming to pets, which is important to the veterans.
“When the housing market is so tight and you have a disabled veteran, you are up against discrimination and landlords who don’t want pets,” says Palmer, adding that it’s so important for veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder to have a companion animal. “The fact that we designed a project that is welcoming to pets was a really positive change for people. It’s not just about finding housing but to be able to keep their dogs.”
Willow Housing also showcases veteran artists from around the country. Through the nonprofit Veteran Artist Program, the development team commissioned pieces of art created by veterans, including an outdoor sculpture, photographs, and paintings. Each art piece includes the name of the artist, the branch of military, years served, and the inspiration behind the piece or why the veteran became an artist.
The $18 million development was financed with federal and state low-income housing tax credit equity from National Equity Fund (NEF), a HUD HOME loan from the county of San Mateo, a county of San Mateo Affordable Housing Fund soft loan, and a soft loan from the city of Menlo Park. In addition to the land, the VA provided capital financing to help cover some of the infrastructure costs. Silicon Valley Bank provided a construction loan, and the Local Initiatives Support Corp./NEF Bring Them Homes initiative provided a predevelopment grant.
“When homeless veterans have the opportunity to live in veteran communities, they really benefit from not only having a secure roof over their head, but also by peer support and counseling,” says Debbie Burkart, national vice president of supportive housing for NEF.