"Overall, California is home to more veterans than any other state in the country," explains Mark Walbert of the California Department of Veterans Affairs. "We get up to 400 inquiries per month from vets looking to buy a home."
Walbert administers CalVet's Residential Enriched Neighborhoods (REN) program, which utilizes the Enriched neighborhoods model. Developed over 12 years by Homes 4 Families and licensed by CalVet, the Enriched Neighborhoods model builds wealth, stability, and thriving communities for low-income veterans and their families through affordable homeownership and wrap-around services.
Hear from Stacey Chiang, Grant Writer & Corporate Development Associate at Homes 4 Families, and her colleagues about how the Enriched Neighborhood model builds community for veterans and their families.
"CalVet is a great partner, and they're national leaders in community responsiveness," explains Stacey Chiang, Grant Writer & Corporate Development Associate at Homes 4 Families. "They saw the rising numbers of homeless veterans and the rising housing costs in California and quickly took action."
Established in 2014, the first CalVet REN and Homes 4 Families development filled immediately with 12 homes selling for $266,000 in a market where the average four-bedroom sells for $330,000.
Homes 4 Families continues to partner with government entities like CalVet, nonprofits, and corporations to provide training and oversight to implement the model in California communities. In total, there are 184 Veteran Enriched Neighborhood homes under construction, completed, or in development in California.
Homes 4 Families centers community from the start of each project by creating an asset map, which provides information about the veterans living in a community – from demographics to capacity for homeownership – and a community's existing resources including markets, schools, and potential partnerships.
Veterans work with volunteers to help construct their homes. "It unites the veterans, their families, foundations, and students to work together, and it also helps veterans integrate into their new communities," Chiang says.
Homes 4 Families designs homes with veterans in mind. For example, to avoid potential triggers for a veteran with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, homes include LED lighting rather than fluorescent lighting, which buzzes and flickers.
"It's really important to us that the homes we build are safe, accommodating, and comfortable for the veterans," Chiang explains.
To support veterans in building community, stability, and wealth, the program provides services specifically targeted to veterans and their families – from credit counseling and budgeting, to support for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
"This approach has been vetted and tested, and it works," Walbert says. "These programs are proven to be helpful to vets who have specific issues."
CalVet REN is a standout example of leveraging partnerships to serve the unique needs of a specific community – veterans. And Homes 4 Families is a clear leader in creating projects that put the wellbeing of veterans at the forefront.
Community First, a HUD-sponsored guidebook created by Minnesota Housing Partnership, helps housing program designers create their own standout initiatives by 1) highlighting examples of successful programs – like CalVet REN – from across the U.S., and 2) providing guideposts in key areas including understanding your target market, identifying barriers to homeownership, and leveraging partnerships. The key takeaway: center community needs and input throughout the program design and implementation process.
CalVet REN has a major impact on veterans and their families. "People are incredibly happy and pleased," Walbert says. "Many participating veterans, especially those who are disabled, never imagined they'd have a house. These neighborhoods are a combination of young and old; some just out of the service, some Vietnam vets who are getting disability who never thought they could afford a home in Southern California."
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