By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — Vietnam War veteran Richard Yarde listened intently to Gov. Deval Patrick as he announced millions of dollars in funding to create affordable housing for veterans in communities across the state and in Haverhill.
Yarde’s thoughts soon turned to a time 15 years ago when he was in need of an apartment he could afford and was referred to Veterans Northeast Outreach Center in Haverhill. He also thought about the many veterans he’s met in recent times who’ve told him they need the same kind of helpful hand in finding safe and affordable housing as he did so many years ago.
“It’s absolutely wonderful,” Yarde said about Patrick’s announcement yesterday at Veterans Northeast Outreach Center on Reed Street.
“This will give veterans what they deserve for their service to their country,” Yarde said. “For many, it will be a start as a lot of returning veterans come home and live with family as a lot of them can’t afford the cost of market-rate housing. And in addition to housing, they’ll have opportunities for job training, retraining and other services that Veterans Northeast can provide.”
Yarde, house manager for the Veterans Mansion on Cedar Street, a program of VNOC, said the 27 new units planned for the Mount Washington neighborhood should fill up as quickly as they are built.
“Most housing is not affordable for a lot of veterans and trying to find a job that will support them in the current economy is almost impossible,” Yarde said.
Patrick was in Haverhill yesterday to announce more than $25 million in funding to create over 335 new units of supportive housing for veterans, homeless and very low income households across the state. He said the funding is part of an aggressive plan by his administration to end chronic homelessness of veterans.
The governor also announced that with these units, his administration has reached its goal of creating 1,000 units of permanent, supportive housing in Massachusetts a year early. Patrick made the announcement at the Reed Street campus of Veterans Northeast Outreach Center, which will receive funding assistance in creating 27 new units of housing for veterans.
“Government’s role is to help people help themselves, and I am extremely pleased that we have reached out ambitious housing goal early, ensuring that more of our families have the resources to get back on the feet,” Patrick said to a crowd of people that included other state officials along with city officials and members of Veterans Northeast Outreach. “Helping our most vulnerable families transition into stable housing is vital to supporting our economy and creating a stronger Commonwealth for the next generation.”
The local organization that provides a range of services to veterans and their families plans to begin construction this summer of 27 additional units of affordable rental housing in the Mount Washington neighborhood, where it is based.
John Ratka, executive director of Veterans Northeast Outreach, said that nationally, there is no larger single demographic that has a greater need for affordable housing than veterans and their families.
He said his organization works with veterans in their early 20s to those in their 80s who have a need for affordable housing as some are low-income and some are living on disability compensation.
Mayor James Fiorentini addressed the crowd as well saying this new housing project is part of the city’s ongoing efforts to revitalize the Mount Washington neighborhood.
Fiorentini told The Eagle-Tribune that police have instituted additional patrols in the area to combat crime, while other quality of life initiatives include the revitalization of Swasey Field, which has a new water park that is expected to open this summer with more improvements planned.
“We’re also instituting more street sweeping and inspections of vacant housing,” Fiorentini said.
On Jan. 15, the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals unanimously approved the application for a Comprehensive Permit submitted by the Veterans Northeast Outreach Center to create more housing for veterans.
Ratka said the $5.7 million project involves creating 27 affordable rental units on three sites in the Mount Washington neighborhood. The largest, a two-story building with 18 enhanced studio apartments, will be built along the Reed Street side of the parking lot for VNOC, which is located in the former St. Rita’s Church at 10 Reed St.
Ratka said a three-story building is planned for 74 Temple St. and will provide six, one-bedroom units with six off-street parking spaces, while a three-story three-unit building is planned for 17 to 19 Tremont St. and will provide one two-bedroom apartment and two three-bedroom apartments with five off-street parking spaces.
The two smaller buildings will be located within a hop, skip and a jump from Veterans Northeast Outreach Center so that veterans don’t have to travel far to receive any of the many support services this agency provides.
The architect for the project, Davis Square Architects of Somerville, designed the buildings to blend in with neighboring homes, many of which are flat-roofed multi-family homes.
“We want them to look like part of the neighborhood,” said Michelle Granick, a project architect with Davis Square Architects.
The project’s engineer, Joe Peznola of Hancock Associates in Danvers, said the homes will have many green energy-saving features such as high levels of insulation, high efficiency heating and cooling systems and light reflecting roofs.
Peznola said construction contracts will be going out to bid and that he expects construction to begin as early as this summer, with a possible opening next spring.
Ratka said a lot of careful planning went into the size of the project and how it would affect the neighborhood while maintaining the history of the St. Rita’s property for those who have lived in the community for a long time.
The project is a collaboration between Veterans Northeast and the Coalition for a Better Acre (CBA), based in Lowell, Ratka said.
The non-profit community development corporation has developed 425 affordable rental units, 33 commercial units, and more than 50 units for first-time home-buyers in Lowell, Ratka said. The Haverhill initiative is CBA’s first residential development project outside of Lowell.
Madeline Nash, CBA’s director of real estate, said the CBA will be seeking funding through the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program and other state affordable housing development sources. Pre-development financing has been provided by the Community Economic Development Assistance Corporation (CEDAC). Funding for this project is from The North Shore HOME Consortium, the city of Haverhill and the state’s Housing and Preservation Stabilization Trust Fund.