NHC invites guest authors to write on important housing topics. The views expressed by guest authors do not necessarily reflect those of NHC or its members.
In 2014, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Veterans Affairs (VA) significantly upped commitments to Project-base Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) Vouchers, subsidies targeting homelessness among military veterans. Awards totaling $12 million are now funding over 1,700 of these vouchers, which prime funding for rehabilitation of aging housing stock and new construction of supportive housing.
As a policy tool, Project-based VASH vouchers target the root issues that lead to chronic homelessness – unaffordable housing, inaccessible support services, and physical and emotional isolation. But they represent a fraction of current spending on VASH subsidies. To date, the majority of VASH subsidies have been awarded as a tenant-based subsidy in the private rental market, and have not been leveraged to increase the supply of affordable housing for homeless veterans. VASH combines Section 8 rental assistance vouchers (administered by local public housing authorities) with case management and clinical services provided through local VA medical centers or community-based outpatient clinics.
While VASH programs overall have made significant inroads against veteran homelessness, more of HUD’s $75 million VASH budget for 2015 should be directed toward project-based vouchers.
- Project-based VASH vouchers, in combination with low income housing tax credits (LIHTC), soft loan sources from public agencies and/or grant funds from foundations and corporations, create long-term affordable housing units. Capital funding restrictions lock in affordability for decades.
- Project-based VASH vouchers in supportive housing can surround chronically homeless veterans who have mental, physical and addiction challenges with support services that facilitate recovery, improve stability and decrease the use (and public costs) of emergency shelters and hospital care. On Long Island, the 60-unit Liberty Village in North Amityville supplements affordable housing with on-site services and an adjacent community resource center housing local homeless service agencies and a job training program.
- Project-based VASH vouchers create housing communities based upon shared experiences, helping support a veteran’s independence through interdependence. “Anyone with a home has neighbors,” said Sgt. Angel Romero, a resident at Liberty Village. “Here I’m with my brothers and sisters.” Said a case manager at Victory Gardens, a 74-unit facility at Newington VA Medical Campus in Connecticut: “People look out for each other, especially in the permanent supportive housing building. A common thread is that ‘I’m a vet, you’re a vet’ and it pulls residents out despite their inclination to isolate.”
Additional funding for project-based VASH vouchers will accelerate the end of veteran homelessness by building more permanent, supportive housing. While construction takes time, new developments are a long-term solution to the challenges shared by the men and women who heroically served our nation.
Guest author Debbie Burkart is National VP of Supportive Housing, National Equity Fund, and Director, LISC’s Bring Them HOMES initiative. LISC’s Bring Them HOMES is generously supported by Citi Community Development, Met Life Foundation, and Northrop Grumman. Over 25 years LISC-NEF has invested $1.9 billion to build 13,000 permanent supportive housing residences, which includes, through Bring Them HOMES, 2,500 homes specifically targeted to meet the needs of homeless veterans. Grants and technical assistance through the BTH Initiative will assist another 2,500 units in 40 projects in 17 states over the next three years.