Boise is a likely landing spot for Idaho’s first permanent supportive housing project for chronically homeless veterans.
The proposal, which has been in the idea stage for years and is not final, surfaced Thursday during a roundtable meeting on homelessness at Boise City Hall. If built, the project would provide 25 apartments for homeless veterans and offer — but not require tenants to use — services like health care, counseling and job training.
Like New Path Community Housing, a 40-unit project under construction on Fairview Avenue between 22nd and 23rd streets in Boise, the apartments would be prioritized for people who’ve been homeless for long periods. Tenants wouldn’t have to pay rent if they’re not earning an income.
The difference is that only veterans would live in the new project, which could be either one or multiple buildings.
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New Path is a product of the Housing First philosophy, the belief that helping homeless people starts with giving them homes and then providing services to help them get back on their feet.
The Housing First approach has been successful in places like Houston and Salt Lake City. Besides helping society’s most vulnerable people, governments and hospitals in those areas have saved money because people who have homes are less likely to commit crimes or need medical care they can’t pay for.
A stable home would help homeless veterans, especially young ones recently discharged from the military who are at risk of falling in with a chaotic, drug- and alcohol-abusing crowd, said Raymond Simmons, a 62-year-old former U.S. Army paratrooper who has been homeless in Boise for most of the last six years.
“It really is hard on them,” Simmons said. “They’re looking for an escape from what they were in, and they’re just getting to a place where it’s just as bad, truly. There isn’t maybe gunfire or anything like that, but you have fights all the time out here.”
As for himself, Simmons said he’d probably turn down an offer of a free apartment because he wouldn’t want to take it from someone who needs it more.
“There’s other vets I’ve known that have been in a war or done Desert Storm or something else that I’d rather see get the credit,” he said.
WHO PAYS FOR WHAT?
Veterans make up about 14 percent of Ada County’s homeless population, according to the most recent estimates.
The Boise City/Ada County Housing Authority provides close to 200 federally funded vouchers that help veterans pay rent, said Deanna Watson, executive director. At any given time, about 25 veterans who have vouchers cannot find a place to live because, in a tight housing market, many landlords will not rent to people who need public assistance.
A new housing project especially for chronically homeless people could help solve that problem. The plan to pay for it is similar to the funding model for New Path Community Housing.
▪ The Idaho Housing and Finance Association would cover about $3.6 million of the project’s estimated $5 million cost by selling federal tax credits the IRS uses to promote low-income housing. Investors, many of them banks, buy them with cash and recover their money over time.
▪ The city of Boise would contribute $500,000 — half from its own coffers and half federal housing-assistance money it administers on behalf of the U.S. Department Housing and Urban Development. The City Council must approve the expenditure of the city’s own money. Mayor David Bieter said he’s confident it will. The council approved spending $1 million on New Path.
▪ The housing authority would cover ongoing costs like maintenance and utilities through its housing vouchers.
▪ The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which operates the Boise VA Medical Center, would pay for supportive services.
▪ Private donations would cover the rest of the project’s upfront cost, about $1 million.
Bieter said his office will spearhead the effort to raise that money. The Idaho Housing and Finance Association has set up an online portal where people can donate to the veterans’ project at bit.ly/VeteranHousing.
“All those resources are really significant in their effort to put a project in Boise,” Idaho Housing and Finance Association President Gerald Hunter said.
TIME AND PLACE
The project wouldn’t necessarily be located in Boise, though. Hunter said his agency will accept proposals from anywhere in Idaho, and if competing submissions come, the agency will pick a winner based on merit.
Boise has major advantages, though. The VA hospital is here. So is Idaho’s largest population of homeless people. It’s also unclear if other cities could match Boise’s financial contribution.
The Idaho Housing and Finance Association is accepting proposals from developers for the veterans’ project, Hunter said. Aug. 24 is the deadline for submitting them.
The agency hopes to break ground on the project late next year and complete it by the end of 2020.
Sven Berg: 208-377-6275, @SvenBerg51