Cities in the Cleveland area are increasingly using the opportunity to rally their communities in support of housing for veterans, including aging veterans and those with service-connected disabilities.
In the face of limited local and federal resources, the cities of Parma and South Euclid have begun to partner with nonprofits to build, preserve, or adapt the homes of aging veterans as well as those with service-connected disabilities. These partnerships allow the cities to maximize the use of traditional programs used to rehabilitate or adapt homes for seniors and those with special needs, such as the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG).
From 1966-1972, as part of the Vietnam War, Parma resident Dale Dunmire served in the U.S. Navy. He was awarded the National Defense Service Medal and the Vietnam Service Medal, and returned home where he began a 35-year career with Cuyahoga County Corrections and the Sherriff’s Office.
After a 2014 operation left Mr. Dunmire wheelchair-bound, he had a ramp installed to help him get in and out of his home. Following an insurance denial for the ramp, the durable medical supply company offered to finance the metal ramp for $325 a month – an amount which Dale could not afford. The ramp was repossessed, leaving Dale home-bound and unable to continue his physical therapy.
As Dale and his family began grappling with their new reality, his Medicare provider connected him to Purple Heart Homes (PHH). PHH is a non-profit started by Dale Beatty and John Gallina, both service-connected disabled veterans of the Iraq War, to provide housing solutions to aging veterans and fellow service-connected disabled veterans.
To build Mr. Dunmire’s ramp, PHH worked closely with both the City of Parma and The Home Depot Foundation. In addition, volunteer associates from the local retail Home Depot, known as “Team Depot,” were key partners. Joining this team were local contractors who provided expertise and local restaurants that provided volunteers with food.
“Our city’s motto is ‘Progress Through Partnerships,’” said Parma Mayor Tim DeGeeter. “I couldn’t think of a better example that illustrates this.”
To help the project, the city waived the permit fees affiliated with the work. “Our city was happy to help in a small way in terms of the permit fees – but overall, we have limited resources to do this type of work for our residents,” said Mayor DeGeeter. “We aren’t in a position to use a lot of CDBG money for home accessibility projects and we have only some money available through our senior center. By working with Purple Heart Homes, and thanks to the support of our local Team Depot, The Home Depot Foundation, and the good will of our community, we were able to make sure that a veteran who has called Parma home for more than 20 years can continue to do so.”
In South Euclid, another Cleveland suburb in Cuyahoga County, the city worked with Purple Heart Homes, Inc. to revitalize foreclosed properties and provide homes for two service-connected disabled veterans. Working with One South Euclid (a nonprofit citizens group), the North East Ohio Foundation for Patriotism (NEOPAT), and local contractors and suppliers, two previously foreclosed vacant properties that were acquired by the Cuyahoga Land Bank were rehabilitated and provided to veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Thanks to the property contributed by the land bank for these projects, the overall cost of each home was dramatically reduced. PHH then worked with the city, which agreed to waive contractor registration fees and permitting expenses and expedite the inspection process for the homes.
Once again, PHH’s involvement with the city rallied the community’s support, and volunteers provided much of the needed labor to rehab each home. During the volunteer days when building was happening, the city provided extra police to direct traffic and manage the increased need for parking.
As a result of low land and labor costs, each home is financed with low-cost mortgages that are paid in part by the veteran, with a second soft mortgage held by PHH that diminishes over time and conditionally gifts 50 percent of the home value. A deed restriction ensures each home will remain owner-occupied by a veteran, and over time, the veteran accrues equity in the home, which they are able to take with them in the event they choose to move to another location.
On January 25, 2016, after seeing the value of their work for both veterans and cities in the region, PHH moved to solidify their presence and held the first meeting of the Northeast Ohio Chapter of Purple Heart Homes. The organization’s chapter will bring together the networks and experiences established during each of these projects to more cities in the area.
Cities are increasingly facing the challenges of an aging population with varying degrees of disabilities. Previous CitiesSpeak articles have talked about the value that can be found by focusing on the issue of housing and the veteran sub-population.
As cities in Ohio have seen, a focus on veteran housing provides leaders with the opportunity to learn what works, which stakeholders and programs can be best aligned, and how to best bring communities together to meet the housing needs of their neighbors.
About the Author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is the Principal Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter at @HarigBlaine.