By Elizabeth Zach, RCAC staff writer, and Angela Sisco, RCAC rural development specialist
Among homeless Americans, one group can report some good news this holiday season—veterans. The number of homeless veterans is on the decline. And yet, their numbers are still alarmingly high enough that President Obama has said – and the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) claims it’s a priority – that 2015 must be the year that every American veteran finds a safe and stable home.
The VA, however, also acknowledges that it cannot accomplish this on its own. According to its website, organizations and individuals across the country are crucial to helping spread the word about homeless veterans and VA resources to not only end but also prevent homelessness among veterans.
This task is particularly challenging when it comes to rural areas. Veterans there are often urban sprawl refugees. They literally have nowhere to go, and once in an outlying area, are doubly pressed to tap resources that will lead them to shelter and healthcare.
And yet, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), more than 40 percent of veterans live in rural America. This is a disproportionate number compared to our urban counterparts. There are currently more than 2.1 million veterans, and minority and female veteran numbers are increasing. And they are a vastly different generation of veterans than those who served in earlier years. Gone are the days of associating veteran services strictly in response to homelessness or physical disabilities; these are young fathers, mothers and individuals returning to our towns who need more than shelter for one night.
Therefore, the question for us now is: Are we missing this demographic in Mutual Self-Help Housing?
Section 502 Loans offer many, if not all, of the same benefits as VA loans; zero percent down payment, no primary mortgage insurance (PMI) and competitive interest rates. But they also have high fees and, while competitive, include higher interest rates than USDA Rural Development loans. Section 502 loans offer the added benefit of subsidized interest rates and, the cherry on top, self-help housing creates equity! In addition, with self-help construction there is the opportunity to customize homes in cases where mobility or disability modifications are essential, and allow volunteer or substitute labor for the disabled.
So as we celebrate the decline of homelessness among veterans, we should acknowledge we may be able to do more. By joining nonprofit agencies that advocate for veterans, we should seek those who represent rural veterans, where you as a self-help housing administrator can offer another alternative to homeownership.