The Department of Veterans Affairs plans to build more than 1,000 housing units at its West Los Angeles campus.
The VA held a public hearing Thursday to gauge public opinion for its plans to provide permanent supportive housing for veterans who are homeless or at risk of being homeless. James Sullivan, director of the Office of Asset Enterprise Management, said the proposed enhanced-use lease initiative would allow a developer to finance, build and operate permanent supportive housing and related services.
The VA first plans to renovate Building 207, located in the northern portion of its West LA campus near Westwood, to provide supportive housing for veterans in the area, Sullivan added.
Meghan Flanz, the executive director of the VA overseeing the West LA campus Master Plan, said the department reached an agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California after the ACLU filed a class-action lawsuit alleging the department was violating an agreement to provide more services for homeless veterans with disabilities.
The VA agreed in 2014 to engage with local community members in drafting its Master Plan for housing homeless veterans in the future, Flanz said. The department completed the Master Plan, which outlines housing building proposals for 1,200 units in 2016.
“The Master Plan … uses the campus for the purpose of housing homeless and vulnerable veterans and meeting the needs of underserved veteran populations to include women veterans, aging veterans and those who are severely or mentally disabled,” Flanz said.
The West Los Angeles Leasing Act of 2016 that Congress passed enables the VA to enter into enhanced-use leases so vendors it selects can build and operate on the campus, Flanz said.
“VA has no authority on its own to build or operate homeless housing, but the enhanced-use lease authority allows us to partner with others to get that done,” he said.
Some students and community members who attended the panel said they think the public hearing was important in bringing together the directors and community members to make suggestions and have their questions answered.
Jesse Flores, a graduate student studying urban planning, said he supports the proposal because it will help address homelessness in Los Angeles.
“I think it is important to address the large homelessness issue that is in LA – especially with veteran homelessness, where it is nearly at 5,000,” he said. “We have this real estate here, this land here at the West LA VA campus to actually do something about it, so let’s do something.”
Bryan Dean, a fourth-year political science student who also works at the UCLA Veteran Research Center, said he thinks the campus could eventually expand its services to help student veterans, including getting them into university housing.
“There are many student veterans that would need housing, so this could fill that gap,” he said. “I am sure there are numerous ways that student veterans can get involved.”
Jerry Orlemann, a former veteran who served for 14 years in the U.S. Army, said he thinks leasing part of the campus to a developer will help get housing built faster. He added he thinks building projects can usually be slow and it is important to get homeless veterans off the streets as quickly as possible.
“When you have got people literally out on the streets, you are talking about sheltering them – it is whatever you can do, the sooner the better,” he said.