Veterans’ Housing Project, Eugene, OR

“The VHP has had an amazing effect on not only my life, but on the lives of everyone around me. This program has helped me get my life back on track.”

Eugene, OR (population 129,067)

Project type: Public/Private Partnership

Project contact: Jon Ruiz, City Manager, jon.r.ruiz@ci.eugene.or.us

Located approximately 2 hours south of Portland, OR, the City of Eugene is home to an Oregon National Guard Unit, as well as a U.S. Army Reserve Unit. Despite having a relatively light military footprint, the community is seeing the impact of an average of 150-300 veterans returning to Oregon each month from Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the fall of 2011, community leaders including the City Manager, General Manager of the City’s Water and Electric Board, Executive Director of the area’s St. Vincent DePaul Society, and the President of the county’s Home Builders Association came together to address the challenges many veterans face in making the transition to civilian life after deployment. They recognized that finding a suitable place to live, while a veteran and their family put in place the stable and sustainable pieces of a successful transition, can be one of the biggest barriers to reintegration.

To help meet this need, the Veterans Housing Project (VHP) was created. Comprised of local, regional, and federal government agencies, businesses, non-profits, service clubs and others, the VHP provides veterans and their families with an affordable rental home for up to two-years while family members are connected to the resources they may need to secure and maintain housing on their own.

The VHP’s four primary goals are:

  • Acquire and rehabilitate distressed properties at the lowest cost possible.
  • Bring a variety of community stakeholders together to accomplish the work and mission of VHP.
  • Connect veterans’ families with appropriate social service networks to strengthen their transition to civilian life.
  • Develop a sustainable program model (not reliant on public funds) that can be replicated.

The first two homes developed by the VHP were opened in November and December 2011. The properties had been foreclosed on due to back taxes, were owned by Lane County, and were acquired and rehabilitated for a total of $80,000 by St. Vincent DePaul Society, an organization with more than more than 20 years of experience in affordable housing development and management.

The low acquisition costs were, in part, related to both properties being in either moderate or severe states of disrepair, but also the result of the properties having “clouded” titles. In an effort to minimize municipal costs associated with fully clearing a foreclosed property’s title and balancing the likelihood of a title dispute, county law does not require municipal foreclosures to have a completely clear title. As a result of the risk associated with owning a property whose title could be disputed, it is impossible to obtain title insurance for these properties, resulting in a lower cost to obtain the property.

For one of the properties, the City of Eugene provided a low-interest loan of $34,000 to assist with rehabilitation. This investment was complemented by an estimated $50,000 in donated labor and materials from local contractors and their suppliers. In addition, a local construction company and the Lane County Home Builders Association coordinated hundreds of volunteers who donated over 2,500 hours of work from association members, city and county employees, University of Oregon sports teams, college youth groups, Rotary Clubs, and many other local businesses and individuals.

VHP’s third and fourth homes were opened in September 2012. They were developed in cooperation with the Bethel School District, one of two school districts within the City of Eugene. The homes were acquired using a total of $187,390 in school district development funds.

Guidelines around the use of school district development funds require them to be used for school expansion purposes only. To meet this requirement, the school district leased the properties for $1 to the local St. Vincent DePaul Society. In the event that the school district needs the land for expansion purposes in the future, the lease agreement allows St. Vincent DePaul to physical remove the structures to another location or be compensated for the structure’s equity. Similar to the development of the first two homes, hundreds of volunteers and thousands of dollars of donated materials were coordinated by the Lane County Home Builders Association.

For the first two properties, the Eugene Water and Electric Board donated $5,000 and for all four properties, EWEB provided ~$1,500 to subsidize the purchase of energy-efficient heating systems. With acquisition costs and construction costs minimized, St. Vincent DePaul Society used equity from other properties to pay for the remaining costs. Due to its size as a relatively large property manager, St. Vincent DePaul was able to minimize the associated management costs for items such as insurance and maintenance. This allows 50% of each unit’s $500 monthly rent to repay the equity and have a portion put in a growing pool of money dedicated for the acquisition of future properties for use by the VHP.

Occupants for the homes are chosen from clients already engaged with participating organizations, such as the Veterans Administration and St. Vincent DePaul by a volunteer-staffed family selection committee using a mutually agreed upon application and criteria. As possible, neighbors are also a part of the selection process.

Beyond Housing

Having established the VHP and provided homes for four veterans and their families, VHP leaders recognized the need to turn their attention towards how to connect these families to the other resources needed to reintegrate into the community. In 2004, St. Vincent DePaul Society, other service providers, the City of Eugene, the Veterans Administration, and others began increasing their coordination in an effort to better align services for homeless veterans and veterans living in transitional housing.

As part of the service alignment, mental health and substance abuse counselors worked closely with employment training and placement program officials, as well as client case managers. The community coordination (or “social capital”) achieved as a result of improving service delivery for the homeless and transitionally housed veterans, has resulted in improved opportunities for returning veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq participating in the VHP.

With a baseline of coordination already in place, the VHP has been able to more quickly connect program participants to needed resources. For example, VHP participants can be matched with employment training opportunities shortly after entry into the program as a result of relationships established with employers through a Department of Labor program targeting homeless veterans.

One of the VHP clients is a single father with two children and PTSD. The VHP case manager has successfully encouraged the client to use VA services to get treatment. In addition, the client has opened an Individual Development Account to increase his financial stability and is looking into homeownership possibilities. The client is also considering educational opportunities that offer the potential to help him change career paths. It is hoped that earlier entry into these programs will provide program participants with longer periods of training, and result in more skill development, and more successful job placement and retention, key components to independently sustaining housing.