The ribbon has been cut and the speeches made – and now, veterans can apply to get one of the 87 homes planned for the first-ever Habitat for Heroes veteran village in Santa Clarita and a smaller village of 13 homes in Sylmar.
On Monday, officials from Washington, Sacramento and City Hall gathered at an open field on Centre Pointe Parkway where the village will be built to laud the work of volunteers in coming up with the plan to build the community and support local service members.
In an unprecedented collaboration, the California Department of Veteran Affairs announced that it has set aside more than $21 million for this project, part of Habitat for Humanity San Fernando/Santa Clarita Valley’s efforts to help local veterans.
With the support of CalVet, in concert with Southern California Gas Company in partnership with KHTS AM 1220, the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) and local nonprofit agencies, the Santa Clarita village is expected to come to fruition in the near future, with groundbreaking in late spring or early summer 2013 and the first home ready in early 2014.
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The village will be comprised of three- and four-bedroom homes which can be purchased using a CalVet Home Loan, a Habitat SF/SCV second loan and, in the case of an additional 13 homes being built in Sylmar, a deferred silent third loan from HCD. Veterans will be required to provide sweat equity to reduce the costs and help build these green energy-efficient, affordable homes.
War veteran Lt. Renard Thomas, who will be one of the village’s first residents, was anxious to get the program started.
“I’m really fired up and excited about this opportunity. There are over 10,000 veterans in the SCV. I also work at the College of the Canyons as a director of the veterans program where we serve over 600 veterans. And this is such a tremendous opportunity,” Thomas said. “If your objective was to serve the veterans, you guys have achieved your objective. There is no better to say thank you than to offer a veteran the opportunity to have a home.”
Secretary Peter J. Gravett, Major General (Ret.) of the California Department of Veterans Affairs, expressed his gratitude for the multi-agency cooperation and support.
“Thank you all for what you’ve done, this is a great project for the state, this community and for veterans,” Gravett said. “This is the first project of this kind; it took all of you to make this event happen today and it will take all of you to turn the first shovel of dirt, which I hope is soon, to the ribbon cutting on the first home.
“California is the most popular state in the nation,” he continued. “It stands to reason that we’d have more veterans. Of the over two million veterans in the state, this community, per capita, has more veterans than any other part of the state. We are very excited about this collaboration with Habitat for Humanity San Fernando/Santa Clarita Valley and Housing and Community Development because it will allow veterans in the Sylmar and Santa Clarita areas to acquire a piece of the American Dream,” he added.
CalVet Sec. Peter J. Gravett (Major General, Ret.) greets Lt. Renard Thomas, who will be the first resident of the new veterans’ village.
“These planned veteran communities will not only bring veterans together but will also offer them a neighborhood that promotes self-sufficiency. Innovative programs like this one are a great example of government, at all levels working in collaboration with the private sector, to meet a serious need,” he continued. “The Governor initiated the ICV (Interagency Council on Veterans) to identify programs like this and highlight them and if possible, replicate them throughout California.”
Representative Howard P. “Buck” McKeon stepped up to the microphone and added his thanks to those who worked to make the village project come to fruition. McKeon, who serves as the chair of the House Armed Services Committee, then asked all veterans in attendance to stand.
As the applause died down, he addressed the veterans directly.
“Thank you all very much for your service. Some of you served in Vietnam and you didn’t get this kind of treatment when you came home. I apologize for that, we all apologize for all that.”
He made note of the difference between that time and the current national support of the military.
“It’s like night and day, I see people thanking veterans when they walk by in the airport and how they are showing their appreciation, which is the way a country should react. But it’s a lot because of what happened after Vietnam and the Vietnam veterans vowed that would never happen again. Thank you for that.”
McKeon shared with the group some of the work he’s done in Washington on behalf of veterans.
“You know, you wouldn’t think this was possible, but in Washington, we have an Armed Services Committee and we have a Veterans Affairs Committee and they had never met together until about a month ago,” he explained. “The chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee also serves on the Armed Services Committee and we said this is crazy, so we had a joint hearing….to ask them why it’s taking so long to get medical records together and solve problems, because all of the soldiers, sailors, Marines that we’re concerned about on the Armed Services Committee eventually become veterans. We should be working hand in hand, and that was the first step to make sure that happens.
“TAP (Transition Assistance Program), the program that helps our military people before they leave the service to get oriented, we’ve really improved that program, we’ve stepped up the time to help orient these people before they leave by 70 percent. So we’re making some good gains there,” he said.
“Our veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan now – (are coming home to) 24 percent unemployment, 40 percent among the wounded. And this sequestration that you’ve probably heard about that I’ve been fighting for the last year, because it’s going to cut so deeply into the military. It’s going to take 200,000 Army and Marines out of uniform and instead of bringing them home to victory parades, we’re putting them on the unemployment lines. That’s crazy.”
From left: U.S. Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, CalVet Secretary Peter Gravett, KHTS Co-Owner Carl Goldman , developer Jack Shine.
McKeon also took a moment to thank Habitat For Humanity board member Jack Shine, a developer who built several neighborhoods in the early days of the city and has now turned his focus to Habitat and helping with the veteran’s village.
Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kellar, a veteran himself, promised the city’s support of the program.
“It is such a pleasure to be part of the City of Santa Clarita that stands so solid behind our veterans,” he said. “The city is going to roll up its sleeves and do everything to facilitate and make this project possible. Nothing happens in this city without a team effort and we see it time and time again, where we all come together and work hard and we get things done. Thank you so much, we’re just honored to be here.”
Donna Deutchman, CEO of Habitat For Humanity SF/SCV, acknowledged the government’s cooperation in this project.
“It is very rare that a government agency like the City of Santa Clarita or like the California Veterans Administration under Secretary Gravett’s leadership, we had to create new programs, we had to create new ways of doing mortgages, we had to do many, many things to make more houses available for more veterans in better ways and to do enriched programming for the veterans to get the services they need,” she said. “California’s veterans are uniquely gifted by having a leader like Secretary Gravett and have an agency that follows him and is willing to go the extra mile and not be bogged down by bureaucratic conditions that say we will not try new things, but rather we will try new things and we will find a way to do them with excellence.”
Veterans wishing to participate in this program must first apply to Habitat for Humanity SF/SCV by visiting their website (www.HabitatSCV.org). Once they are approved by Habitat SF/SCV, they will then undergo the approval process for a CalVet Home Loan.