On a single night in January 2017, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Point-in-Time Count estimated that roughly 40,000 veterans nationwide were experiencing homelessness; 15,000 of those vets were unsheltered or on the street. The same report showed an estimated 131 homeless veterans in Maine, and approximately 124 in New Hampshire.
A coalition of groups in both states have been working to provide homes for veterans. In New Hampshire, the nonprofit agency Harbor Homes recently broke ground on Boulder Point Veterans Housing, a 30-unit apartment complex in the town of Plymouth.
PASSION AND PERSEVERANCE
Harbor Homes is the largest member of Partnership for Successful Living (PSL), an affiliation of six nonprofit organizations that offer programs for New Hampshire’s most vulnerable individuals and families. Harbor Homes is the arm most involved with housing development and veteran services.
According to Vanessa Talasazan, Chief Strategy Officer and Chief of Staff at PSL, the idea for Boulder Point was born more than seven years ago. Cathy Bentwood, executive director of Bridge House and Alex Ray, the owner and founder of The Common Man Family Restaurants, were champions from the beginning.
“When Cathy and Alex witnessed firsthand the lack of housing and services for veterans in their community, they fought for something better,” said Talasazan. “It’s their passion and perseverance that kept this project alive despite all of the challenges along the way.”
Harbor Homes was actually the second developer to attempt to complete Boulder Point. The original plan was for 54 units, but Harbor Homes scaled the project back— to reduce costs and to make each unit a little bigger and include more amenities.
Talasazan and her team worked with many partners to piece together the funding to build the property: N.H. Housing Finance Authority, N.H. Community Loan Fund, N.H. Community Development Finance Authority, HUD, Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston, TD Bank, Enterprise Bank, Meredith Village Savings Bank, plus a host of individual donors and companies. Because the project serves homeless vets, Harbor Homes also qualified for funds from other sources such as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and The Home Depot Foundation.
Harbor Homes also partnered with NNEHIF to secure a 4% bond deal to finance some of the development costs. It was the first time that Harbor Homes used the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program, but Talasazan says that “NNEHIF was with us every step of the way.”
RURAL WITH AMENITIES
Building permanent affordable housing in rural areas can be tricky because of the lack of access to amenities such as healthcare, job training, and public transportation. Because of nearby Plymouth University, however, there are plenty of amenities and access to them. Boulder Point residents will enjoy 12 acres of beautiful land and the services they need to live successfully in their new homes.
Boulder Point is on track to open in spring 2019. Harbor Homes will work with the White River Junction Veterans Administration to develop service plans and select tenants. Talasazan expects it will fill up quickly.
Like in New Hampshire, one of the challenges of veteran housing in Maine is providing a remote feeling while still being close to services. Cabin in the Woods, a new housing development for vets in Maine, was intentionally built in a rural setting and with an innovative approach: each home is a free-standing cabin to allow residents the space they need to feel comfortable and safe.
June Koegel, former CEO of Volunteers of America Northern New England (VOANNE), was inspired by a similar project developed in Lake City by VOA in Florida in 2008. According to Terry Baldwin, VOANNE’s current Chief of Operations, it’s taken about seven years to bring the project over the finish line.
“We had the vision early on to build permanent housing for all kinds of vets, including women and those with families, but it took a long time to get the funding together” said Baldwin.
The U.S. Veterans Administration helped to fulfill the vision by giving VOANNE 11 wooded acres of land on the grounds of Togus VA Medical Center in Chelsea, Maine.
THE FUNDING PUZZLE
The Cabin in the Woods model of individual homes instead of apartments is effective— and made the project complicated and expensive to execute. A myriad of groups provided funding and donations for the project, including the Maine State Housing Authority, HUD, local and national VAs, and significant grants from The Home Depot Foundation and T.D. Bank Charitable Foundation.
Of the $5.8 million it cost to build Cabin in the Woods, about $3.8 million was financed through the Housing Credit program.
“We have some tax credit experience, but this was our first large tax credit development project,” said Baldwin. “We wouldn’t have been able to finish it without NNEHIF’s advice and support.”
In addition to the Housing Credits component, VOANNE utilized HUD-VASH (Veterans Affairs supportive housing) project-based vouchers. Veterans pay 30% income of their rent, and HUD-VASH vouchers take care of the rent subsidy on 16 of the 21 cabins. For the other five cabins, Housing Choice or other housing vouchers are accepted. (Boulder Point in NH has 25 project-based VASH vouchers.)
Since the complex opened in August 2018, all 21 cabins have been filled. Two of the families have five-year-old boys who live right across the road from each other! There’s also a “community cabin” with an office, mailboxes, laundry facility, and gathering space. Cabin in the Woods has fast become a community— of the service men and women who live there and their neighbors who support them.