Financing from Affordable Housing Trust and MassHousing's CCRI helped created 13 new units of affordable sober housing for veterans
By Tom Farmer
Corporate Communications, MassHousing
From left, MassHousing Community Services Specialist Ed Chase; DHCD Undersecretary Aaron Gornstein; and MassHousing Community Services Manager Tom Lyons
WESTFORD – Two communities recently showed their commitment to our veterans and the many issues they face after their military service with the opening of two new affordable housing facilities that will provide a sober living environment and supportive services.
CHOICE Veterans Housing will soon see veterans and families moving into the newly constructed housing in Westford and Chelmsford. Developed by Choice Housing Opportunities for Intergenerational and Community Endeavors (CHOICE), an affiliate of the Chelmsford Housing Authority, there are five new family apartments in Westford and 8 new furnished studio apartments in Chelmsford.
Eligible tenants have been selected through a lottery process and will move into the new housing in November.
"This building is something we hold close to our heart," Chelmsford Housing Authority Executive Director David Hedison said at the opening event for the Westford housing on Carlisle Road. "Chelmsford lost someone in the war (Against Terrorism) and we've lost people who returned from the war. We wanted to provide a safe place for our veterans to call home."
CHOICE Veterans Housing in Chelmsford
MassHousing helped finance the new veterans housing with $783,924 from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and $150,000 from the Center for Community Recovery Innovations (CCRI), a non-profit subsidiary corporation of MassHousing that supports non-profits that create or preserve affordable sober housing in Massachusetts for recovering substance abusers.
Veterans have among the highest rates of homelessness nationally and most homeless veterans only have a choice between sleeping in a shelter or on the street.
"For a veteran to call a shelter home is unconscionable," said MassHousing's Director of Community Services, Tom Lyons, a Vietnam veteran and former executive director of the New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans. "This is exactly the kind of housing—that also provides critical support services—that is badly needed. I can't thank you enough for what you are doing for veterans," Lyons added at the Westford event.
The CHOICE Veterans Housing will provide quality affordable housing to income eligible veterans and their families in the Westford and Chelmsford areas as well as supportive services from the Chelmsford Housing Authority's Family Self-Sufficiency Coordinator. The coordinator will work with tenants to create individual plans to assist them with accessing resources and services such as education, job training, financial literacy and counseling.
CHOICE Veterans Housing in Westford
The Northeast Veterans Outreach Center, which provides assistance to veterans in the Merrimack Valley, will be the point of contact for all the CHOICE Veterans tenants. Services will be rounded out by the Veterans Administration facility in Bedford as well as each community's Veterans Services Officer.
"It is gratifying to see communities recognize the challenges our veterans have and the record homelessness problem they face," said Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, who grew up in a military family. "Those who serve in war have life-changing experiences. This looks like beautiful, beautiful housing and it reflects the respect you have for our veterans who have served."
The new housing also received financing from the state, the towns of Westford and Chelmsford, the Federal Home Loan Bank, CEDAC, Enterprise Bank, Charlesbank Homes and the TD Charitable Foundation.
"These projects don't happen without a lot of local support," noted Aaron Gornstein, the Undersecretary of the state Department of Housing and Community Development. "We have to keep going because there is a tremendous need for housing for our homeless veterans. It takes all of us working together."
State Sen. Eileen Donahue said the supportive services for veterans are as important as creating quality housing.
"The statistics are staggering of the mental illness, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and substance abuse among our veterans," she said. "Just putting someone in housing with a roof over their head sometimes is not everything they need so the support services part of this is critical. We need to provide to them what they need to be successful with their families going forward."
Veterans housing has been a priority for the Patrick Administration.
"We're going to help stabilize them, we're going to help get them readjusted, back into a community where they live and hopefully this will be the start of some more projects to help us end the scourge that is veterans' homelessness," state Secretary of Veterans' Services Coleman Nee told the Lowell Sun at a subsequent opening event at the Chelmsford facility on Manahan Street.