Empowering Veterans Through Collaborative Housing Initiatives: Insights from the 2023 National Rural Housing Conference

The Housing Assistance Council (HAC) is dedicated to supporting those who have answered the highest call of service to our nation. Our Affordable Housing for Rural Veterans (AHRV) Initiative aids local nonprofit housing organizations in improving housing conditions for veterans in their communities with support from The Home Depot Foundation. The brick-and-mortar projects that AHRV funds provide critical home repair, rehab, and construction for low-income, elderly, homeless, and/or disabled veterans. All this support is tailored to meet the specific needs of veterans in each community.

At HAC’s 2023 National Rural Housing Conference, the Veterans Stakeholder Meeting convened practitioners from around the country to share ideas and best practices. The centerpiece of the meeting was a series of presentations from a panel that included:

  • Karen Boyce, Managing Director of The Veterans’ Place, Inc. (TVPI), a transitional home for homeless veterans in Northfield, Vermont;
  • AB Bustos and Amber Morson, Homeless Veteran Program Managers at the Texas Veterans Commission (TVC), an organization that advocates for and provides services that will improve the lives of Texas veterans and their families; and
  • Miguel Chacon, Executive Director of A.Y.U.D.A. INC, an organization that provides assistance programs to low-income individuals and families in El Paso County, Texas, including affordable housing, rental assistance, and community health worker training.

Housing organizations from across the country benefited from hearing detailed presentations on housing efforts and gained insights on how organizations can work to better support veterans. Here are four key takeaways from the meeting:

  • 1. Incremental changes in language can make veterans more responsive to community partnerships.

    When asked “are you a veteran?” many former servicemembers, especially women and people who were discharged under other than honorable conditions, tend to answer “no.” Others may not consider themselves veterans because they never saw combat. The Homeless Veteran Program of the Texas Veterans Commission (TVC) found that a small change—asking “did you serve?”—has helped them identify more veterans who qualify for programs, some of which are open to all veterans, regardless of their type of discharge.

    This small change has generated such an increase in response that TVC has begun a statewide awareness campaign to encourage other local and nonprofit support programs to make the same phrasing change in an effort to identify more eligible veterans. Because TVC works with a wide range of supportive programs—education, employment, mental health, homelessness, and more—it emphasizes the connectedness of housing to the broader ecosystem of community support. A simple change in the language used to identify veterans can help housing organizations—and supportive programs of all stripes—across the country reach a wider net of people who need support after answering the highest call of service to our nation.

  • 2. Housing is part of a broader ecosystem of support.

    Organizations that open doors to collaboration can provide better support for the veterans they serve. In the Veterans Stakeholder Meeting, the team from the Veterans’ Place explained that they had noted an increase in the average age of veterans looking for housing. So, TVPI adapted their approach by reaching out to supportive housing organizations, like those providing assisted living, to find resources within their area for senior veterans.

    When organizations work with other groups and community programs, they often find partnerships they did not know were available to them. That’s why it’s important that the National Rural Housing Conference brings together practitioners from across the country, including many who work in housing-adjacent fields, like community health. The network of peers for housing organizations includes other organizations and local services. For example, healthcare institutions can play an important role in the support that housing organizations provide and vice versa. Housing is deeply connected to health, which becomes especially apparent when a veteran is living with mold, when a home that isn’t accessible for their disability, or when they’re recovering from challenges like PTSD or substance use disorder. The support that housing organizations goes further when it works in concert with other community services.

  • 3. It is crucial for housers to learn from a network of peers.

    In the Veterans Stakeholder Meeting, the panel was asked, “how do you start from ground zero?” Some of the meeting’s participants wanted to know how their housing organizations could expand into supporting veterans but didn’t know how to take the first step in building a network of support. One answer was for organizations to look for assistance within their community. The Veterans’ Place emphasized the importance of being willing to ask for help and of networking with other organizations, including housers in nearby areas. Groups like HAC and the Texas Veterans Commission that bring peer organizations together and connect them with resources act as force multipliers. By building connections among practitioners—both those with established veterans programs and those without—HAC provides a crucial service to the ecosystem of veterans housing.

  • 4. One size does not fit all for veteran housing assistance.

    Every veteran has their own unique story and lived experience. Placing all who served into the same category and assuming they face the exact same challenges is an ineffective approach to housing assistance. Recognizing this, the Veterans’ Place tailors its services to the needs of the individual. With open door policies and peer support, the Veterans’ Place emphasizes establishing boundaries and individual-specific systems when it comes to veteran housing. The Veterans Stakeholder Meeting proved the importance of this individualized approach across all housing programs, as organizations understand the unique needs of every veteran and continue to implement services that work for them.

The National Rural Housing Conference brought together practitioners from across the country. By sharing ideas as broad as the importance of partnership and as specific as the nitty-gritty of how a question is asked, these leaders learned lessons they can put into practice in their communities. As each community tailors these best practices to meet the specific needs of their veterans, HAC and The Home Depot Foundation will be there, supporting the local initiatives that bring us one step closer to a nation in which all veterans can have a healthy, accessible, and affordable place to call home.

Policy News from Congress

HAC’s Research Director Testifies to Senate Banking Committee on the State of Housing 2023

HAC was deeply honored by an invitation to testify at the first hearing held in the new 118th Congress by the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee. Titled The State of Housing 2023, the session featured Lance George, HAC’s Director of Research and Information, as one of  three witnesses.

A wide range of topics was covered by the witnesses’ testimony and the Senators’ questions. Among the key areas of concern were the gap between housing supply and need, the high cost of both homeownership and rental housing, and what congressional actions could address these challenges. Committee Chair Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) asked specifically about the loss of rentals financed by USDA’s Section 515 program, a serious concern addressed by HAC research in 2016 and 2022.

Key Takeaways

Lance’s statement made five key points about the state of rural housing in 2023:

  • The pandemic left its mark on rural America and housing markets remain uncertain.
  • Rural mortgage markets are being impacted by interest rates and prices too.
  • Affordability is the greatest housing challenge in rural America, by far.
  • Manufactured housing is an often overlooked but important source of housing – especially in rural America.
  • Race matters across the rural spectrum – especially in housing.

Key policy recommendations, based on HAC’s full set of policy priorities for 2023, included:

  • Increase rural communities’ access to credit and capital and strengthen USDA and HUD homeownership supports.
  • Improve opportunities and financing for preserving aging rental properties and protecting tenants.
  • Authorize the powerful Rural Community Development Initiative and a significant cross-sectoral, flexible capacity building rural investment initiative.

Lance George

Lance George

HAC’s Director of Research & Information

Watch the Hearing

Policy News field

HAC’s Research Director Testifies on Persistent Poverty on Capitol Hill

On Tuesday, November 15, 2022 at 10:00 am EST the Subcommittee on Housing, Community Development and Insurance convened a hybrid hearing entitled, “Persistent Poverty in America: Addressing Chronic Disinvestment in Colonias, the Southern Black Belt, and the U.S. Territories.” Lance George, HAC’s Director of Research and Information, provided testimony during the hearing.

Watch the Hearing

For more information on Persistent Poverty, read The Persistence of Poverty in Rural America.

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