Real estate industry must be part of solution to end veteran homelessness

As Veterans Day approaches, consider that there are nearly nine hundred homeless veterans in New York City. In 2010, the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness introduced a plan to end veteran homelessness by the end of 2015. The City has launched a program called “Mission Home” in order to help reach that goal, and REBNY is calling on our members to join this worthy effort.

Since January 2014, New York City has seen a 50% decrease in homeless veterans, and only about 10 of those veterans are still living on the streets. The remainder are living in City Department of Homeless Services shelters and federal Veterans Affairs-funded transitional housing. However, the city’s overall four-part plan to end veteran homelessness is far from complete – the steps of this plan include decreasing entry into shelter, increasing the housing supply dedicated to veterans, instituting policy and system changes to expedite and improve quality of placements, and increasing accountability for all stakeholders.

Increasing the supply of housing available to veterans is one of the most important steps in this plan, and the step which would benefit most from outside help. Over the next two months the City is dedicating hundreds of its publically financed apartments but it needs hundreds more from the private sector. The City has worked to ensure that all our homeless veterans have, or are in the process of obtaining, rental subsidies, and they have put in place an improved system to match veterans with the housing that best suits their needs. To this end, there are many incentives for collaboration.

These incentives include a 15 percent broker bonus for brokers who connect veterans with Living in Communities (LINC) apartments or units that can be subsidized using Department of Housing and Urban Development Veterans Administration Supportive Housing (VASH),NYC Housing Preservation and Development Section 8, and Medicaid Redesign Team vouchers; a $1,000 landlord incentive for every apartment and commercial Single Room Occupancy (SRO) unit with a one-year lease signed by a homeless veteran; a $500 room rental incentive for every one-year lease signed for landlords renting rooms through the LINC program to veterans; and access to a rental guarantee fund of up to $3,000 per year per apartment for landlords who house veterans. This guarantee fund can be used to cover potential damage to the apartment or assist with the payment of rental arrears, as needed.

Once appropriate housing is identified for each veteran, the placement will be sustained as necessary through programs such as aftercare services, veteran peer coordinators, a LINC rental guarantee fund, and various methods of identifying high-need veterans. 

The ultimate goal of “Mission Home” is to reach “Functional Zero,” a term meaning that there are no unsheltered veterans, no newly-homeless veterans who remain so for more than 90 days, and that at any given time, there are no more than 300 homeless veterans in New York City.

The real estate industry can and must be part of the solution. Ending veteran homelessness is an ambitious, but achievable goal, and our industry’s collaboration with government is the key to making it possible.