Marching Together

By Kerry O’Leary

America’s returning service members encompass every age, background and path of duty on the roster. But one trait too many of them share is a struggle to find the support, resources and attention they need to transition back home.

Finding permanent housing solutions for our men and women in uniform is a subject that has received national attention in recent years, and in 2009 the White House announced a call to end chronic homelessness for veterans by 2016. Here’s a look at how some communities—and banks—are answering that call.

Innovative lending
In August, lawmakers from across Connecticut gathered on the grounds of Victory Gardens, a supportive housing development in Newington—a quaint yet booming town bordering the capital city of Hartford. Webster Bank, just down the road from Victory Gardens, helped fuel the 74-unit project that also provides on-site wellness services for residents.

Working closely with the Women’s Institute for Housing and Economic Development, the bank understood the requirements of the VA Connecticut health care system’s 75-year, enhanced-use lease agreement, which took nearly two years to negotiate. “WIH started a dialogue with us very early on,” recalls Robin Gallagher, SVP at Webster Bank. “The project was right in our backyard, and this is the kind of support we strongly believe in.”

The first of its kind in Connecticut, the financing terms called for “flexible and creative underwriting, without sacrificing quality,” says Gallagher. The project has won regional recognition, including a nod for “demonstrated financial innovation” from a leading real estate consulting firm.

Integrated living in L.A.
In a section of Los Angeles denser than most U.S. neighborhoods its size, disabled veterans will soon have a much-needed, enhanced sense of belonging—thanks in part to Wells Fargo and local partner Skid Row Housing Trust. The Six Apartments will be an urban oasis that cleverly mixes private residences, support services and rehabilitation space for 52 veterans and their families.

Five stories seamlessly transition from public courtyards, gardens and storefronts to private, secure dwellings—resulting in a vibrant, integrated living experience. One of two stops that tour-goers will see this month during the ABA Annual Convention Community Development Tour led by the ABA Foundation, the Six will give new meaning not only to a formerly vacant lot, but also to the heroes who will call it home.

FHLB Dallas HAVEN grants
The Housing Assistance for Veterans, or HAVEN, grants are given by the Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas and help assist veterans in the region with home modifications or newly constructed homes. An “above and beyond kind of program,” as the Dallas Fed’s director of community investment, Greg Hettrick, calls it, HAVEN funding to date has reached 25 service members disabled by active duty since 9/11 through grants to 14 separate financial institutions.

“We looked a little deeper, and what we saw is a lot more men and women coming back from duty with debilitating injuries,” says Hettrick. “That means meeting additional challenges while adjusting to life after service.”

Houston’s Green Bank has put HAVEN dollars to work for two of its customers. One, a Purple Heart recipient who served in Afghanistan, is now able to reside more safely in his family home. From replacing floor surfaces to eliminate trip hazards, to fully rebuilding the front entrance, the veteran and his qualified-caregiver spouse have made functional improvements through the program.

They even built a backyard dog run, allowing adequate exercise for the family’s service animal. “Green Bank took care of [the dog run] independent of the grant,” Hettrick says. The veteran had gone the extra mile for his country, and Green Bank was honored to do the same for its customer.