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Green, supportive housing for veterans should become a national model

Kaid Benfield’s Blog

If anyone deserves our thanks, appreciation, and support, it has to be veterans of the armed forces, many of whom serve at great risk and with honor only to return to civilian life devoid of much in the way of income, housing, or social services. A shocking portion are homeless: veterans make up around 9 percent of our population but 23 percent of our homeless population. Veterans comprise fully a third of our homeless men. The federal Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 107,000 veterans are homeless on any given night.

There are people doing something about it in Milwaukee, however, where the locally-based Center for Veterans Issues has teamed with local affordable housing builder Cardinal Capital Management to create a new, 52-unit apartment building just for veterans. Called Veterans Manor, the new homes have been designed to green standards in a walkable neighborhood (rated a “very walkable” 72 on Walk Score), with an east-west transit line right at the front door and a north-south line across the street.

Onsite counselors from CVI allow residents quick and easy access to support and guidance. In addition, the facility features a commercial kitchen cooking 22,000 meals weekly for local schools, according to Sam Newberg’s Joe Urban blog, while offering training for the veterans in the food service industry. The kitchen, which also cooks for residents, is operated by the nonprofit Milwaukee Center for Independence. The Center’s training program includes both classroom training and daily functional work activity. Soon to come is a bistro-style Troop Cafe that will offer meals to the community.

According to the Veterans Manor website, the project includes “very energy efficient” heating & cooling, thermopane windows, low-VOC paints and carpets, a white roof that reflects summer heat, and green cabinets and countertops built with green materials, rating a score of 92 of 100 possible points on a “Green Built” standard. There is also a fitness center, free high-speed internet, a business center, and community rooms. All utilities are included in the rent, which is priced to be affordable to individuals making 60 percent of area median income.

Newberg reports that there were NIMBY issues (sigh), but they were overcome. He believes, and I agree, that the project could become a model for communities across the country:

“Veterans Manor was not without its concerns among neighbors, but an open and proactive relationship with surrounding property owners won the day ultimately.

“The 52 units were filled within 90 days. Residents are almost all men, aged 38 to 78, with an average of two to four years in the military. The developers were expecting more retired veterans who were working and independent, but most require some kind of services. Most interesting was [Cardinal Capital president Erich] Schwenker’s comment that it would be very satisfactory if current residents [remained] there (at Veterans Manor). He explained the expectation in the social service provider world that people eventually ‘move up’ to have a family and live in a nice single-family suburban home. In Schwenker’s opinion, if Veterans Manor is where residents plateau, that is a victory, because it is a nice place to live and it beats conditions and lifestyles these veterans are coming from. In fact, Joe Thomae of Cardinal Capital explains that some tenants were crying tears of joy when they signed their lease.”

A notice posted on the website of the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority says that financing for Veterans Manor was made possible by the Authority’s award of $1.1 million in Affordable Housing Tax Credits resulting in over $6.8 million of equity to assist in development efforts. The Center for Veterans Issues and Cardinal Capital also received a $1.8 million federal loan to address equity financing gaps for the tax credits.

This fantastic 3-minute video gives you a tour of the building along with the story of a very articulate tenant: http://youtu.be/A6KilHqnD7k

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