A new community for formerly homeless veterans has opened on surplus land of the sprawling Perry Point VA Medical Center in Perryville, Md.
Developed by nonprofit HELP USA, HELP Veterans Village provides 75 affordable homes as well as easy access to on-site case management and services provided on the Veterans Affairs campus on the banks of the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay. It includes new construction as well as the rehab of nine vacant homes that date back to World War I, when the Army built an ammonium nitrate plant and an entire community for the people who worked there.
“It feels good to see how important the project is for the folks who work at the VA and live in the community,” says David Cleghorn, chief housing officer at HELP USA. “It’s one the largest projects of its type in the nation and will help effectively end veterans homelessness in Maryland.”
However, getting the development to the finish line wasn’t an easy feat for HELP USA. After being awarded an enhanced-use lease at the end of 2011, the developer entered into a prolonged NIMBY battle with local politicians in Cecil County that lasted about five years.
With political turnover in the county and state and new champions for the development, support swung back to HELP USA’s direction. State delegate Kevin Hornberger, who had once lived on the site, helped shift the local opinion, and Gov. Larry Hogan came into office and took concrete steps to help get the deal done.
Also making the case for the development was the securitization of 75 Department of Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing vouchers through the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), which then provided for four full-time case managers from the VA.
“It’s one of the projects from a process standpoint that defines what we do as a nonprofit. We understand there are limited resources, but this land would have been empty if we didn’t stick with it for 10 years,” says Stephen Mott, chief of staff at HELP USA. “To see these veterans move in feels really good. The level of services with on-site case managers and the wealth of services at the VA and not three bus rides away is just game-changing for the residents.”
HELP Veterans Village was expected to be fully leased by the end of October. The majority of the units are one-bedroom and reach the single veterans population, while the remainder are serving veterans and their families. Cleghorn says many of the residents are single male veterans in their 30s or 40s who were referred by the VA.
In addition to the services provided on-site, the development has a community building with meeting space and laundry facilities. HELP USA also is working on a private fundraising strategy to build a walking track with outdoor exercise equipment.
“The best amenity is the location—its access to their health care and social services as well as the natural beauty of the site being on the river and the bay,” says Cleghorn, adding that the campus has ample open space, sporting areas, and a nearby fishing pier.
The development also boasts energy-efficiency features, with a 3-acre solar field designed to provide all the electric needs of the 75 homes. The developer is hoping to have the solar field hooked up by late December and see the net-zero impact in 2019.
The $23 million development was financed with 4% low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) equity, with National Equity Fund as the syndicator and Morgan Stanley as the investor. Maryland DHCD provided short-term and long-term bond financing, 4% LIHTCs, a Rental Housing Works loan, and energy-efficiency funding. Veterans Affairs gave a capital contribution and paid for soil remediation. Philanthropic support came from The Home Depot Foundation, The Citi Foundation, and Northrop Grumman.
Additional partners include Harkins Builders and Kramer+Marks Architects.