Just three months ago, the US Department of Veterans Affairs had just 54 permanent homeless housing units on its sprawling West Los Angeles campus, a dismal delivery of the deal it made to create 1,200 units as part of a sweeping master plan drawn up in 2016. That plan was the result of a lawsuit and settlement with homeless veterans who argued that the VA was not living up to its primary obligation to be a home for veterans, not just a medical facility with the land to lease to outside interests.
Then last month, 59 units in a rehabbed historic building were completed and veterans began moving into the small but handsome apartments, many with large arched windows offering expansive views of the VA campus. In the next weeks, An additional 120 units will be available in two buildings, bringing the total to 233 apartments. Construction continues, and by the end of 2024, more than 600 units should be open, or close to being open, according to Tyler Monroe, senior vice president of development at Thomas Safran & Associates, one of three companies that make up the main developer team. . for the housing and amenities that will make up a veterans’ community on the north side of campus.
That’s slower than having 480 new homes by 2020 as the master plan called for. But it’s encouraging to finally see more homeless veterans move into stable housing on land dedicated to their care and well-being.
At this rate, GO schedules estimates the 1,200 units could be ready by mid-2030. That’s still four years from the original master plan forecast. And we hope that the project can reach its goal of 1,200 units sooner, the need is great. For him homeless count 2022, there were about 3,900 homeless veterans in Los Angeles County. One thing the VA can do to make sure it hits at least the 2030 date is release control of the land parcels to developers by 2028.
The project has faced major obstacles: an environmental study that took two years, aging infrastructure (decrepit sewer lines and water supply systems, among other problems) that was not ready for substantial residential development, and the arduous task of gathering financing for affordable housing from various sources.
In fact, the last failure is related to part of that financing. When residents were selected for the newly opened Building 207, which is restricted to older homeless veterans, some homeless veterans, by virtue of their VA disability payments, made too much money to qualify. Financing for the building, including money from the city’s Proposition HHH funds, requires that tenant income be no more than 30% of area median income.
But veterans who are considered totally disabled, and who would benefit most from living near the VA hospital and on-campus services, receive monthly disability payments that put them at 50% of area median income. Finding a veteran of the right age group and poverty level was like looking for “a unicorn,” a VA official told an advisory group last month.
Since then, the director of the Los Angeles Department of Housing, noticing the difficulty VA has had to find renters who meet income requirements, asked the City Council to allow the HHH unit eligibility limit to be raised to 50% of area median income in VA supportive housing, as needed. The council agreed to do so. While the VA should always try to find and house the most indigent veterans, it is foolish to have empty campus units while the VA searches for homeless veterans poor enough to qualify.
assembly bill 1386introduced in the Legislature, would allow veterans with up to 60% of the area median income to be placed in homeless housing built with funding from the state Veterans Housing and Homelessness Prevention Program, at the same time which instructs housing developments to prioritize veterans who earn less than that.
The VA also has funding from the PACT Act, that President Biden signed into law last year to expand health care and VA benefits for veterans exposed to toxic substances. The legislation includes funds that the VA can use for the development of supportive housing projects, with more than $350 million available for the West LA campus. It would be great if the VA would funnel some of that PACT money to homebuilders so they don’t have to raise as much money and can move projects faster. (VA only supplies the land and pays for the infrastructure.)
That this development project is finally gaining momentum is long-awaited news for veterans and their advocates, who have watched in frustration for years as VA officials failed to transform the campus from little more than a medical center in the residential community and the meeting place they needed. they were promised. Now that construction has started, let’s see how VA and the developers try to speed it up even more. Every day on a sidewalk, in a tent, under an overpass, is another day when homeless men and women who served their country are left without a home to call their own.