5 Models for Cheaper, Greener Housing for Veterans

A look at some of the country's forward-thinking projects.

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HUD

Earlier this year, I wrote about a terrific project providing apartments, supportive services and job training for veterans in central Milwaukee. On the green side, Veterans Manor earned a 92 out of a possible 100 points on a local "Green Built" standard, while enjoying a transit-accessible location with a Walk Score of 72. The building has a commercial kitchen that services both the residents and local schools while providing job training and experience.

I have a special appreciation for those who serve our country and the problems they face, because my father was a Purple Heart veteran of WWII who struggled with housing (my parents lived in public housing when I was born), unemployment, and alcoholism after the war. He was a man of peace who quietly opposed the Vietnam War and Desert Storm, but he remained in and around the Army his whole life. When I was young, all his friends were either in the military or worked for it, as he did as a civilian in an Army Reserve Center in our home town. Across the country, Veterans Day is being observed yesterday (officially) and today (when many offices are closed in observance).

Housing can be a formidable challenge for many veterans. They comprise a third of all U.S. homeless men, and the federal Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 107,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. More encouraging, perhaps, is that the unemployment rate for veterans is now below the national average (6.3 percent compared to 7.9 percent), though the number goes up a lot when one specifically at post-9/11 veterans (10 percent). We’re right to remain concerned on both fronts.

I wrote that Milwaukee’s Veterans Manor should become a national model, and I was pleased that my article was picked up by the Center for Veterans Issues. This time last year, I also found a very impressive organic farm in California that trains vets in sustainable agriculture skills.  Yesterday, noodling around the internet, I found a number of additional, very encouraging projects that combine sustainability with support for veterans:

  • In Pittsfield, Massachusetts (top image), the nonprofit veterans support organization Soldier On employed solar energy in a cooperative multifamily housing project intended to serve as a new national model for transitioning veterans from homelessness to homeownership. Veterans have an opportunity to purchase an equity share in the 39-unit Gordon H. Mansfield Village, with the value held in trust and available if they choose to move out. Services provided include health care, substance abuse aftercare, mental health counseling, and job training and placement assistance. Residents also participate in the policy development, management, and maintenance of the Village.
  • Last year in Portland, Oregon (left inset), construction began on a new green, affordable housing complex exclusively for veterans. A story by Susan DeFreitas posted last year on Earth Techling indicates that "this new six-story building, a joint effort of the Portland Housing Bureau and REACH Community Development, is located in the city’s South Waterfront neighborhood, with easy access to public transportation as well as medical services through Oregon Health Science University and the Veterans Administration Medical Center. It has been designed to achieve LEED green building certification" and will include 209 apartments for low-income veterans.
  • In Haverhill, Massachusetts (inset right), a foreclosed home was purchased by the Veterans Northeast Outreach Center and retrofitted by builder GreenVision Properties and energy auditor Advanced Building Analysis as a deep-green duplex for veterans in transitional housing. The building, intended as a demonstration project, features “a complete super-insulation and air sealing package that includes top-of-class triple pane tilt’n’turn windows. With energy efficiency maximized, we included low energy use ventilation and heating/cooling systems and appliances. Domestic hot water is from a roof-top solar system.”
  • At the national level, in 2008 the Sierra Club Foundation formed a partnership with the organization Homes for Our Troops to incorporate a higher level of green building materials and processes into homes built for severely injured veterans across the country. The Foundation’s $1 million grant has allowed Homes for Our Troops "to incorporate state of the art building techniques and materials such as geothermal heating system and photovoltaic solar panels to give our veterans the long-term economic and environmental benefits of green building. It [also allows] us to educate the public about our experiences with green building so we can be part of expanding this nationwide effort."

Terrific concepts, every one. If readers know of other green projects assisting veterans, please let us know in the comments.

This post originally appeared on the NRDC"s Switchboard blog.

Top image: courtesy U.S. Dept. Housing & Urban Development.  Left inset: courtesy Portland Housing Bureau. Right inset: courtesy Angie Beaulieu, Eagle Tribune.

About the Author

  • Kaid Benfield is the director of the Sustainable Communities and Smart Growth program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, co-founder of the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system, and co-founder of Smart Growth America. More
    Kaid Benfield is the director of the Sustainable Communities and Smart Growth program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, co-founder of the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system, and co-founder of Smart Growth America. He is the author or co-author of Once There Were Greenfields (NRDC 1999), Solving Sprawl (Island Press 2001), Smart Growth In a Changing World (APA Planners Press 2007), and Green Community (APA Planners Press 2009). In 2009, Kaid was voted one of the "top urban thinkers" on Planetizen.com, and he was named one of "the most influential people in sustainable planning and development" in 2010 by the Partnership for Sustainable Communities. He blogs at NRDC's Switchboard.