“I relocated to Tuscaloosa from northern California after being homeless. I felt desperate and saw no future. Living at Valor Grove has lifted a tremendous weight off of my shoulders. The first time I stepped into my apartment I cried like a baby. I love the peace and quiet, living around other veterans, in a place that I can call my own. This is the first time since returning from Vietnam that I feel honored by my country.” – Vietnam War & Army Veteran
Valor Grove, the first development of its kind in the nation, opened in October 2014 on the campus of the Tuscaloosa VA Medical Center (TVAMC). The $11 million development offers affordable housing for homeless veterans who pay rent based on income while they transition back into their communities.
Valor Grove is a 60,000-square-foot, 50-unit, 83-bed development with 25 single units and 25 units with a mix of two and three bedrooms. The development was built using a combination of an existing building and a new three-story building. Although classified as “transitional” housing, residents will likely stay at Valor Grove long term while they receive the services they need to rejoin their communities.
Tuscaloosa VA Public Affairs Officer Damon Stevenson said, “Veteran housing is definitely an issue in Tuscaloosa County and surrounding counties…” Research and studies back up that statement for the entire state of Alabama and nation as a whole. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, veterans account for about 23 percent of homeless people in America. A HUD study showed that on a single night in January 2013, there were more than 57,000 homeless veterans. In Alabama alone, that number was over 500.
Valor Grove not only provides sorely needed housing for homeless veterans, but also vital social services to help veterans transition back into their communities. The VA is heavily involved in assisting the tenants with things like health care, applying for VA benefits, finding clothing, etc. In addition, Volunteers of America Southeast and a local nonprofit called Tuscaloosa’s One Place provide unique services to help veterans transition back into their communities. Both organizations are providing case management services to the veterans, as well as their family members, on-site several times per week. Veterans are obtaining career readiness skills as the organizations help them with setting up emails and writing/editing résumés, finding and securing training classes at community colleges, helping them prepare for interviews, and much more. In the future, the organizations hope to add couples and parenting classes to the list of services they are providing. Veterans and their family members need only walk downstairs to get these important services that will help them get their lives back on track.
The long list of collaborators on this initiative includes the VA, HUD, Department of the Interior, Hollyhand Realty, MAP Development, Alabama Housing Finance Authority, Tuscaloosa Housing Authority, RHA Housing, City of Tuscaloosa, Alabama Multifamily Loan Consortium, Bank Independent, Volunteers of America Southeast, Tuscaloosa’s One Place, and High Socks for Hope.
After receiving a free, private, long-term “enhanced use” land lease, Hollyhand Realty and MAP Development formed a nonprofit, Valor Grove GP, Inc., to develop the project. After receiving a $4 million grant from the VA and a $210,000 grant from the city of Tuscaloosa as well as state and federal historic rehabilitation tax credits, they approached AHFA for funds to help make the development a reality. Taking into account the number of collaborators involved and the innovativeness of the funding structure and delivery of social services, AHFA awarded the project more than $530,000 in LIHTC funds.
While securing construction costs were a major factor in making a development like Valor Grove a reality, there were also substantial costs associated with furnishing such a development. Luckily, High Socks for Hope (the David and Erin Robertson Foundation) stepped in to provide all new home furnishings for almost every unit. David is from Birmingham, Alabama, and is a pitcher with the Chicago White Sox. He and his wife heard about Valor Grove in September 2014, but had no money budgeted for the project. Additionally, David was in the midst of transitioning from the New York Yankees to the White Sox, which made fundraising from their usual sources in the New York market difficult. However, three months later they had miraculously managed to fully furnish (bedding, linens, kitchen supplies, den/dining furniture) almost all 50 units.
According to the VA, approximately 25 VA campuses across the nation will eventually have developments like Valor Grove.
“Before the HUD VASH program, I was flopping house to house, state to state, jail to jail. Since I’ve been in the program, I don’t flop anymore. I haven’t been to jail anymore.” – Marine veteran
“When I came to Tuscaloosa I felt hopeless with nowhere to go, nowhere that I was able to lay my head and call my own. This was a blessing from the Lord above. I am overwhelmingly grateful for a chance at a brand new life. My whole outlook on life is very positive. Living here at Valor Grove is probably the most rewarding and fulfilling thing that has happened to me in my entire life.” – Air Force veteran
“It’s beautiful. I’ve prayed about this a long time…It’s an answer to a prayer for me.” – Navy veteran