By Ali Scher
During the Congress of Cities in Boston, NLC announced that the Military Communities Peer Network will become the Military Communities Council on January 1. For nearly two years, the group has met informally to discuss a variety of subjects unique to cities with large military footprints. Topics have included collaboration between the community and nearby military installations, infrastructure and environmental concerns, and the reintegration of veterans into communities. NLC President Marie Lopez Rogers, Mayor, Avondale, AZ, appointed three member city representatives to lead the newly formed Council. Tom Reardon, City Councilor, Sierra Vista, AZ. was named the Council’s chair, and Arturo Pecos, Commissioner, Kingsville, TX. and Martha Sue Hall, City Councilor, Albemarle, NC were named vice chairs.
At the group's meeting in Boston, more than 30 officials learned about best practices for meeting the housing needs of veterans with disabilities from Heather Pritchard, Manager of National Partnerships with The Home Depot Foundation (the Foundation); Jon Ruiz, City Manager of Eugene, OR.; and Elisha Harig-Blaine, NLC’s Senior Housing Associate.
With veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan returning home and joining a veteran population that is older and more likely to have a disability than the general public, Pritchard highlighted the Foundation’s commitment to ensuring all veterans have a place to call home. Pritchard discussed the Foundation’s focus on home improvements and repairs, as well as their work to create supportive housing and single family homes from real-estate owned (REO) properties in cities across the country. In 2011 alone, the Foundation made cash contributions of more than $38 million to nearly 1,800 non-profits, and donated more than $19 million in product donations to 624 non-profits, improving more than 34,000 homes. Having donated more than the Foundation’s initial $30 million, in September the Foundation announced an expansion of their commitment with an additional $50 million over the next three years.
Eugene City Manager Jon Ruiz talked about his community’s work to help veterans better reintegrate home by providing them with affordable housing. Citing the importance of tapping into existing areas of community collaboration, he underscored the critical role that city leaders must play to bring stakeholders together. Mr. Ruiz spoke about the importance of the city’s model, which uses a limited initial public investment rather than on-going funding in the continued environment of tight budgets.
Participants discussed the interconnectedness of housing for veterans with numerous other issues of concern for veterans such as job placement, education and job training, mental and physical healthcare, family supports, and more. Harig-Blaine noted that identifying how city officials can make an impact on these issues can seem daunting, but that taking action to address the housing needs of veterans can provide an initial point of reference that can be used as a starting point for work on other areas of concern. He noted the importance of working to better address the needs of veterans in the next few years while there is high public interest and concern for veterans who are returning home.
Details: For more information about the Military Communities Council, contact Alison Scher at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about NLC’s work on housing for veterans with disabilities, visit www.nlc.org/veteranshousing or contact Elisha Harig-Blaine at email@example.com.