Community of Diverse Needs

4 min read

Vermont Villas brings together seniors and homeless veterans

“The best way to change the world,” iconic folksinger and social activist Pete Seeger once said, “is to find a positive story and tell it.”

Seeger would love Vermont Villas: 78 units of permanent housing for homeless, low-income veterans and special-needs seniors. “This community, located in the Harbor Gateway area of the City of Los Angeles, will be the first of its kind in Southern California, at one site addressing the housing and service needs of these under served populations,” says Nicki Cometa, Chief Financial Officer of the Affirmed Housing Group, which developed the project in partnership with PATH Ventures, a Los Angeles based non-profit that works to provide housing options and customized supportive services for people in southern California transitioning from shelters or other transitional programs to housing that can be their homes.

Based in nearby San Diego, Affirmed has been developing affordable housing in southern California since 1992. “All Vermont Villas’ units,” Cometa explains, “will be set aside for older adults with special needs who are homeless, suffer from chronic illness or physical disability, or often use public health services. Fifty will be additionally targeted to veterans.”

Adds Amy Anderson, executive director of PATH Ventures, “Vermont Villas is more than just shelter. It provides residents with critical access to supportive services for their health and general well-being.” Four case managers, all employees of PATH ventures, work at Vermont Villas—and offer twenty-four hour on-call coverage in case of emergency. “Such case manager involvement is the standard for permanent supportive housing,” Anderson explains. On and off-site offerings will include social services, mental health, and primary health care.

“The Affirmed-PATH collaboration in this joint venture is a huge part of what makes Vermont Villas special,” says Jeffrey Schaffer, Vice President and Market Leader, Southern California, for Enterprise Community Partners, which participated in Vermont Villas as its Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) investor. “Each agency plays its collaborative role. Affirmed Housing is the sponsor and lead partner; PATH is the managing general partner and provides social services on site. Although many projects are built and operated by a single developer, it’s not wholly uncommon to find this type of partnership between for-profit Affirmed Housing and nonprofit Path Ventures. Each brings its respective skills.”

Enterprise invested $13.5 million in LIHTCs. Construction financing of $14.72 million came from Chase Community Lending; financing from the Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department totaled $3.9 million; an Affordable Housing Program loan added $800,000; and permanent financing from Bellwether Enterprise was $3 million.

Additionally, this project will receive rental assistance vouchers—for 28 units from the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services (DHS), and for 50 units from the federal Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing VASH program. Of the 28 units, nine will be reserved for chronically homeless seniors and 19 for disabled homeless seniors – all 28 to be referred and funded by DHS. Fifty of the units will be reserved for chronically homeless veterans and will receive VASH vouchers—which are “project based” and thus available for whoever occupies the 50 apartments.

When First Lady Michelle Obama visited Los Angeles one year ago, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti committed to ending veterans homelessness in the city by the end of 2015. The VASH vouchers from the Veterans Administration are an important tool in trying to achieve this goal.

The health-oriented rent support being delivered by DHS is “a relatively new, silo-busting revenue source, with public health dollars being directed into the provision of affordable housing,” says Schaffer. “Mitch Katz, director of the L.A. County Department of Health Services, has set a goal for his department of creating 10,000 units of affordable housing; Katz recognizes that housing linked with services provides a cost-effective way for his department to address the holistic needs of LA DHS patients.” Adds Amy Anderson, the PATH Ventures executive director, “There’s a lot of pressure to reduce health costs, and a stable home is a great way to do this.”

The key to all this seems to be a wide range of professions and institutions learning to work together—profit and nonprofit; housing and health advocates; developers and service providers; veterans and non-veterans.

“There’s incremental learning with every project, some of which is realized only once it has been in operation for a period of time,” says Schaffer “Vermont Villas provided learning in terms of understanding the blending of new funding sources. In operation, we anticipate the project will provide valuable learning on appropriate service delivery and achieving housing retention for the mixed population of formerly homeless veterans, seniors and others living with health care vulnerabilities.”

These lessons will be applied to the next projects, which makes the story even more positive.