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Finding a Place for Homeless Vets, With Help from Vets Themselves

An article in The Washington Post details a new kind of partnership between affordable housing developers and the American Legion, a vets’ organization, to turn an old legion hall into 160 apartments, half reserved for homeless and at-risk military veterans. Says Deborah Burkart, of LISC/NEF’s Bring Them HOMES initiative, “this could be an example others follow”—under-used American Legion facilities across the country might provide a similar resource for creating safe and much-need homes for our ex-servicemen and women.

The excerpt below is from:
Where ex-soldiers have socialized, they will soon find affordable housing
By Patricia Sullivan, The Washington Post

Photo © Gus Powell/Courtesy Lee Marks Fine Art for Citi's Bring them HOMES Photography Exhibit. Learn more here

A leak from the kitchen imperils a room where card players and potential pool sharks still occasionally congregate. The concrete-block walls exhale seven decades of cigar and cigarette smoke. The basement bar, built to accommodate more than two dozen, is never full — “On a good day, I might have five or six customers,” bartender Doris McNeil said.

So the Legion’s board decided it was time to sell the building, located on 1.4 grassy acres close to George Mason University in Arlington, Va. Developers pitched high-end, high-rise condos and housing for law students at nearby George Mason University.

But the old soldiers, sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen decided to sell to a local affordable housing agency, drawn to the possibility of a modernized Legion post that will be built as part of the project and of providing much-needed apartments for struggling vets.

It is an approach much like the one taken by religious organizations in the past dozen years to convert under-used space into low-cost housing in return for a new, smaller worship space and the moral satisfaction that they are living their faith.

The sale of American Legion Post 139, however — which will result in 160 new apartments, half set aside for military veterans — may be the first collaboration between a veterans organization and an affordable housing agency, experts say.

“I have not come across a similar project,” said Deborah Burkart, who is on the board of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans and founded the national “Bring them HOMES” initiative. Given the thousands of such facilities nationwide, she said, “This could be an example others follow.”

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