A recently completed YardHomes residence will provide housing for a homeless veteran.
Courtesy YardHomes A recently completed YardHomes residence will provide housing for a homeless veteran.

Volunteers of America National Services (VOANS) has announced an initiative to create accessory dwelling units (ADUs) for veterans and their families who have experienced homelessness.

The nonprofit organization is partnering with YardHomes, a Minneapolis-St. Paul metro-focused ADU specialist, on the effort. As part of the VOANS Innovative Dwellings program, this partnership leverages a $3 million Wells Fargo Foundation grant awarded to VOANS in 2020 to support the creation of 125 housing units across four market areas served by local VOA affiliates and community partners.

VOANS will assist YardHomes in completing its first phase of dwelling units this year by providing pre-development assistance, design and construction support, and expanded project management capacity.

“VOANS is excited to partner with YardHomes to expand its existing efforts in collaboration with the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans to create high-quality backyard ADUs and small cottage home villages using full volumetric modular and structurally insulated panel-based dwellings,” said Sharon Wilson Geno, executive vice president and chief operating officer at VOANs. “These off-site construction technologies deliver exceptional value, quality, and sustainability, and the locations add density in existing communities in ways that enhance the vitality of those neighborhoods and smartly leverage existing infrastructure.”

There are 19 cities in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area with ADU ordinances, and more communities are adding such land use flexibility each year, according to officials. By offering compact dwellings in the backyard of existing single-family homes plus groups of these dwellings in cottage villages, the partnership aims to deliver housing embedded within existing neighborhoods that allow honorably discharged veterans to thrive in their next chapter of life.

The organization developed its Innovative Dwelling program around the experiences of Volunteers of America in Los Angeles, which purchased and sold some single-family homes after adding ADUs in the backyards with an agreement that they would house veterans.

Officials hope the new partnership will show how the strategies employed by YardHomes can be adopted by a range of mission-driven providers of housing to deliver housing quicker and at a lower cost for people experiencing homelessness.

“VOANS and the Wells Fargo Foundation share our mission to create more homes, for more people, in more places,” said Nichol Dehmer, YardHomes founder.

Eileen Fitzgerald, head of housing affordability philanthropy with Wells Fargo, added, “Having a healthy and affordable place to call home is an essential pathway for wellness, dignity, and economic opportunity. Lack of affordable housing puts millions at the edge of crisis, and ADUs can help to increase the supply of affordable housing.”