Combating Veteran Homelessness with Homes 4 Families

Providing housing solutions for our American Heroes is an everyday goal for this company

By Abby Pittman

The American Dream is something we all strive for. Upward mobility, owning property, these are the kinds of things that are supposed to be possible in America. This should be especially true, and even more possible for our veterans, who have fought and sacrificed to uphold that ultimate white picket fence dream. However, homelessness amongst veterans is increasing at an alarmingly fast pace. Homes 4 Families, a Los Angeles based development company, has dedicated itself to enriching the lives of veteran families by providing opportunities for post-deployment housing arrangements.

Founded in Los Angeles in 2008, Homes 4 Families exists to meet the significant need for affordable housing and effective, no-cost services that equip and prepare veteran families for home ownership and movement up the housing ladder. According to Donna Deutchman, President and CEO of Homes 4 Families, and developer of the Enriched Neighborhood model, Los Angeles county is home to more that 280,000 veterans, of which nearly five thousand are homeless – a number that has grown rapidly in recent years. However, according to Deutchman, “despite this growing population of homeless servicemen and servicewomen, few permanent housing resources exist to assist veteran families.”

Homes 4 Families breaks down the reintegration process into more manageable steps. Homes 4 Families developed an outcome-proven Enriched Neighborhood model as an innovative, replicable, and comprehensive way to move low-income families up the economic ladder with full-equity affordable homeownership that empower families to become resilient and self-sufficient. “I could not imagine an affordable housing program, and a program that has wraparound services that teach self-sufficiency, more important than one that addresses the needs of those among us who risked the most for the American dream and put that risk on the line not only for themselves, but for us as well,” Deutchman said.

Homes 4 Families are currently building 86 more homes for families in Santa Clarita, Palmdale and North Hollywood, and remain committed to empowering low-income veterans and their families to enter the middle class through affordable homeownership.

Through that model, they are able to provide servicemen, servicewomen, and their families with comprehensive services that equip veterans to succeed in civilian life, including services such as financial education, therapeutic trauma-informed workshops, services for military children, and veteran-to-veteran support. And, according to Deutchman, the houses themselves are built with veteran specific needs in mind, “since a majority of the veterans in our program are disabled, and even more suffer from chronic leg and back pain, in order to eliminate the unnecessary waste of construction materials which occurs when one needs to modify their home, we have designed all homes to include ADA features.” All plugs and lights are at ADA levels, as to not require bending, and only LED lighting is used because fluorescent lighting has been shown to trigger PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury symptoms. Master baths and showers can also include grab bars, shower seats, and others options, depending on the veterans needs.

The Enriched Neighborhood model also utilizes sustainable building practices. All homes minimally meet the requirement for California Green Tier 2 Standards, are equipped with Energy Star Appliances, utilize low-flow toilets, tankless water heaters, and are outfitted with solar panels. All landscaping is drought-tolerant and uses drip irrigation. The community itself includes a Veggies for Vets orchard and an urban community garden where each family will have a designated plot.

Homes 4 Families will both provide services and build Veteran Enriched Neighborhoods, continuing to include the veteran-specific design features, built-in disability modifications, and neighborhood health and wellness amenities.

However, despite the amazing success that the company has encountered, it did not come without difficulties. There were a number of environmental challenges that presented themselves during the building process. The city required a reduction of housing units in wake of the unprecedented mudslides in the state, the drought, and the impending El Niño, as well as other possible climate change factors; extra precautions were required to be made. The company answered with retention basins; “Deep concrete basins were replaced with equal volume 40-year rain shallow permeable common area dual-use basins,” Deutchman said. In this space, a sports court will be created that is environmentally regenerative in design and replaces a formerly designed concrete retention basin that would have been both an eyesore and a safety hazard.

In order to be successful, Homes 4 Families creates a community-oriented environment, working closely with its residents to meet veteran specific needs. Their business model is heavily influenced by the fact that they sell their homes at cost-to-build, and, because of that, they are always striving to find new ways to lower costs through partnerships. Possibly the most unique aspect of their building process is that the majority of construction is done by volunteers and the homeowners themselves. “We have thousands of volunteers a year who bring construction costs down, giving the veterans a greater sense of ownership and accomplishment, and giving them a greater understanding about the construction process for when they become homeowners,” said Deutchman. The success and the impact it has had on the communities has been astounding.

Most unique to the business model is that 0% foreclosure rate among low-income civilian homeowners.

According to Deutchman, “With the support of CalVet and generous corporate sponsors and individual donors, Homes 4 Families has built over 360 homes, including five Enriched Neighborhoods in Los Angeles communities such as Burbank, Santa Clarita, Pacoima, and Sylmar.” To date, Homes 4 Families has had less than 1 percent foreclosures, with families receiving the full equity of their homes and seeing household incomes increase by an average of 19 percent — by all rights, a successful business model. By working closely with the California Department of Veterans Affairs and others, and by producing a unique business model, Homes 4 Families has the support they need to build permanent, thriving veteran communities. Next up, Homes 4 Families is developing a step-up program for veterans who may not yet be ready for homeownership. Their goal is to build Veteran Enriched Neighborhood communities throughout California, and work with other builders and organizations to replicate the model throughout and beyond the state.

Abby Pittman is an Editorial Assistant at Green Home magazine. She can be reached at abby@penpubinc.com.