Vets' housing proposed at VA

City, federal housing agencies will have input on the development

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian business editor

Published:

 

A Florida-based developer has requested city review for an apartment complex at the Veterans Affairs campus in Vancouver.

The 69-unit project, to be built on a parking lot along East Fourth Plain Boulevard, would serve homeless and low-income veterans as part of a nationwide VA initiative to reduce the number of veterans without homes.

Freedoms Path, as the project is called, is one of 38 veterans' housing projects being developed around the nation at VA facilities. Communities for Veterans, a Sarasota, Fla.-based firm, has been selected for eight of those projects, including Vancouver, said Adam Gratzer, a project manager for the company. The Vancouver project is to be financed in part using federal low-income housing tax credits made available through the state of Washington.

The project, which has been under discussion since 2011, is not yet a done deal. Gratzer said developers hope the Vancouver Housing Authority will be able to secure federal housing vouchers, which provide rent subsidies and coordinated services, that will make the project financially viable.

The 64,000-square-foot, four-story building would be built on the southwest corner of the intersection of East Fourth Plain and St. Johns boulevards.

Plans submitted to the city in preparation for a Feb. 27 pre-application conference show that the building would have 21 studio and 48 one-bedroom apartments. Parking would be provided with on-site spaces and a shared parking lot that has not yet been constructed, according to the proposal.

34 sites nationwide

The VA launched the housing initiative in 2011 to address the high level of homelessness among veterans. At that time, it selected the Vancouver campus as one of 34 sites nationwide to house low-income and homeless veterans. The for-profit Communities for Veterans was selected for eight of those projects. The first of those eight Freedoms Path projects, in Chicago, is now under construction, Gratzer said.

"Our goal is to help end homelessness among veterans," he said.

Residents of the Vancouver Freedoms Path complex will have easy access to veterans services already available on the VA campus. In addition, Gratzer said, a nonprofit will coordinate services at all the Freedoms Path sites and work with local social services providers in each of the eight communities.

Federal vouchers

As envisioned, the project would get a boost in the form of vouchers from the Department of Housing and Urban Development through the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program. This week, the Department of Veterans Affairs issued a long-awaited request for applications for 1,000 VASH vouchers nationwide. Sasha Nichelson of the Vancouver Housing Authority said the application process extends for 90 days from the Feb. 4 announcement, and that a funding decision could take another 30 days to six months.

Her agency has not committed to requesting vouchers for the Freedoms Path project, Nichelson said.

"There's a whole process to go through, and I haven't even begun it," she said.

Gratzer is already eager to find local subcontractors to work with Core Construction Services of Florida, listed as the project's applicant. He's optimistic that the project will be awarded the VASH vouchers.

"I think we've got a great chance," Gratzer said. But he added, "If we don't get the vouchers, I don't think there will be a project."