Housing Solutions for Veterans Offer a Path Forward

January 26, 2018 - (4 min read)

From 2010 to 2017, homelessness among American military veterans declined by an astonishing 46 percent. This historic progress was the result of sustained partnerships between federal, state and local officials, as well as philanthropy, the private sector and nonprofits.

The progress for veterans is encouraging — but veterans only represent a fraction of the 553,742 people who experienced homelessness on any given night last year, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Homelessness affects a diverse group of individuals and families across urban, suburban, and rural communities. More than 40,000 of the homeless are under the age of 25 — and nearly 58,000 families with children also are homeless.

The solution to homelessness is simple: housing! However, the work that is required to bring new affordable housing — like the top-of-the-line Conway Residences in Washington, D.C. — to completion and full occupancy is unparalleled in terms of the time required to gather partners, secure financing, assign architects and contractors, and meet regulations.

In Washington, it took nearly 8 years to bring Conway Residence on-stream. By comparison, construction of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier George H. W. Bush took less than six years from keel laying to delivery.

Ending homelessness is possible. Sixty communities across 30 states have met a series of criteria and benchmarks defining what it means to have a community system that ensures veteran homelessness is rare, brief, and non-recurring. This achievement of “functional zero” is in part an outgrowth of the Mayor’s Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness.

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From Homeless to Housed

To see the practical application of lessons to bring the homeless into housing, look no farther than the John and Jill Ker Conway Residence, ten blocks from the U.S. Capitol. There, permanent housing has been achieved for 60 formerly homeless veterans and 64 low- and moderate-income residents. Twenty-five partners came together to build these dwellings from across government, philanthropy, banking, real estate development, and community service. Rents for the veterans in this building are not more than 30 percent of income and 47 units are reserved for persons earning not more than 60 percent of area median income. There are onsite support services such as job counseling and mental health specialists.

For these reasons, it was more than fitting that the National League Cities and its partners launched the Mayors & CEOs for U.S. Housing Investment initiative from the community room at the Conway Residence on January 25, 2018. The coalition kicked off with a gathering of mayors from cities across the country, including Los Angeles, Phoenix, Washington, D.C., Little Rock, Denver, Portland, Oregon, Aurora, Colorado,  Oakland, California, Mesa, Arizona, and others — and business partners including Airbnb.

The purpose of Mayors & CEO’s for U.S. Housing Investment, is to ignite a national conversation on housing and the importance of partnerships across sectors and across levels of government to combat homelessness and ensure access to affordable housing for all. In addition to supporting existing Federal programs such as the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and Section 8 rental housing assistance, the campaign calls for creation of a program to pair housing vouchers with supportive services from the Department of Health and Human Services. Such a voucher is modeled on the successful HUD/VA Supportive Housing (HUD/VASH) vouchers.

This new effort to garner more support for housing programs builds on work NLC already is doing on homelessness with a special focus on veterans. Thanks to multi-year financial support from The Home Depot Foundation (who also provided support to Conway Residence), The National Veterans Intermediary, and Wells Fargo, city leaders have the support they need to expand housing opportunities.

Going forward, NLC and its partners will be advocating for and supporting cities that are seeking to reduce homelessness and create new housing opportunities. The coalition will be highlighting cities that are implementing a data-driven and coordinated approach, creating an effective crisis response system, and serving the most vulnerable. Resources can be found at a new website, www.housinginvestment.org.

About the author: Jim Brooks is NLC’s Director for City Solutions. He specializes in local practice areas related to housing, neighborhoods, infrastructure, and community development and engagement. Follow Jim on Twitter @JamesABrooks.