The housing crisis facing veterans
Posted by egehl on December 5, 2011
The need for adequate, affordable and suitable housing for U.S. veterans is immeasurable. Millions of veterans returning home from recent wars, and those still struggling from wars of the past, are desperately seeking housing they can afford and structures that will meet their unique needs. In fact, the lack of housing is cited as the No. 1 unmet need of America’s veterans, according to a recent VA CHALENG report. Therefore housing must be a priority when it comes to providing support for our veterans when they return home to their communities.
Veterans throughout America were hit hard by the housing crisis. More than 72,000 veterans spend at least half of their monthly income on rent. As a result, home equity is out of reach for many and the number of homeless veterans continues to grow. In addition, many returning veterans are struggling with personal finances, further exacerbating their ability to secure safe, decent housing.
Given the sacrifices these men and women have done for our country the housing challenges they face should not be their reality.
For veterans just returning from service, many have endured severe injuries such as amputation or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). As a result, readjustment and reintegration into their families and communities can be very difficult and they must face figuring out how to readjust their entire lifestyle. Of the nearly 200,000 service members currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 33,000 have been wounded so the need for more homes to have ramps and rails has exploded.
In addition, the majority of the 23 million veterans living in the U.S. are now in their 50’s and 60’s and will soon be forced to deal with how to pay for necessary home repairs on fixed incomes. Home repairs include a wide range of needs from more dire circumstances such as roof repair, to weatherizing a home to provide better insulation and lower energy bills.
Women veterans present their own unique challenges when it comes to housing. Research states there is one common thread that women veterans’ desire and that is social interaction with other women veterans when looking for and receiving services. Therefore women veterans want not only safe and healthy housing, but a way to connect with other veterans in similar situations. As a result, a number of organizations are creating temporary or permanent housing scenarios, such as apartments, that give women veterans and their families ways to interact and support each other.
In looking at the top 5 states with the highest veteran populations—California (2.1 million), Florida (1.7 million), Texas (1.7 million), New York (1.1 million) and Pennsylvania (1.1 million)—all of these states have really suffered from the housing crisis. Their foreclosure rates are high and in states like California and New York there is an extreme lack of affordable housing. All of these housing market dynamics further complicate how to offer adequate housing to veterans, especially in these geographic areas.
The solution to addressing the need for stable housing will take the right mix of support and opportunity in a way that honors and respects the sacrifice of military families and values their return to civilian life. Hundreds of organizations reach out to veterans and their families, but a gap still exists.
The Sea of Goodwill: Matching the Donor to the Need, published by the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff in January 2010, explores why there is such a challenge between effectively connecting the needs of veterans to this “Sea of Goodwill.” The report concludes that no single organization has the capacity to provide a lifetime of support to the veteran population. The approach to veteran social reintegration must be holistic and combine the efforts of government, the public sector and the private sector.
Habitat for Humanity International is trying to tackle the lack of housing for veterans through a new nationwide veteran initiative. Many of Habitat’s 1,500 affiliates are participating and here is just a sampling of what they are doing:
- Habitat for Heroes in San Juan Capistrano, CA: Habitat for Humanity of Orange County completed a 27 home development in 2010 in partnership with 9 veteran and 2 active duty military families. Sponsors included JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America Foundation and more than 1,500 local donors. Camp Pendleton’s Base Commander, Base Chaplain and troops gave 100% effort in thousands of volunteer hours.
- Warrior Transition Battalion in Tacoma, WA: Continuing a three-year partnership, more than 30 injured soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord joined with Tacoma-Pierce County Habitat volunteers to help build homes in partnership with low-income families in July 2011. Notably, Lt. Gen. Eric B. Schoomaker, the U.S. Army Surgeon, visited the construction site to congratulate the soldiers on their contributions to the community.
- Hiring Our Heroes Job Fair in Los Angeles, CA: In July 2011, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles participated in ‘Hiring Our Heroes Los Angeles,’ a hiring fair sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and aimed at matching veterans with employers. Additionally, in November 2010, the affiliate engaged homeless veterans as volunteers on a Habitat construction site.
The housing crisis has impacted everyone, however veterans have been especially hit hard.
Therefore housing must be an integral aspect of supporting veterans when they transition home.