Sherry Roth weathered a tough spell last year. She was homeless, living with friends and family in Dayton and Huber Heights during the day before spending nights at local shelters.
Roth, 48, ended up in Miami Valley Hospital after her chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) flared up. From there, she went to a St. Vincent dePaul emergency shelter in Dayton.
A chance to move to the Dayton VA campus changed her life. And now Dayton VA officials hope the process that made that possible will allow other organizations to improve lives and enhance usage of the historic property.
Andrea McGriff, tenant operations director for Miami Valley Housing Opportunities (MVHO), and her colleagues were able to point Roth to an apartment on the VA campus last November — an apartment built through a federal Enhanced Use Lease (EUL) partnership between the federal government and MVHO.
The monthly rent of about $230 is affordable and VA personnel are helpful, Roth said.
“I like it here,” she said. “I have no plans on moving.”
An EUL is an agreement in which an entity leases federal land for a specific purpose. The Dayton VA is inviting organizations and developers to explore new EUL possibilities in 11 campus buildings and an outdoor space, the grotto area. Solicitation information for those who believe they can serve homeless and at-risk veterans on the historic west-side campus will be released before the end of the year, VA officials say.
Requests for proposals from developers will pave the way to new uses and services on a campus that has served veterans and their families for more than 155 years.
At a time when the lack of quality affordable housing is on the national agenda, EULs deserve attention, advocates say.
MVHO controls about 50 buildings across Montgomery County and works with outside landlords, with about 1,000 tenants at any given time.
“If you can provide them the supportive services and the things that they need, they (tenants) do well,” said Debbie Robinson, MVHO chief executive “The impact we’ve made on people is huge.”
‘We have an excellent history’
The VA campus off West Third Street, between Gettysburg Avenue and Liscum Drive, has been a center of activity in recent years.
The campus will be home to a planned $100 million National VA History Center in two historic buildings: the Old Headquarters and the Clubhouse. That project is eyed for a tentative 2026 completion.
“We embrace anything that’s going to enhance the experience for our veterans community, and we know there are a number of opportunities out there that can do that, and we support them,” Donald Remy, VA deputy secretary, said in an Oct. 20 visit to Dayton.
“We have an excellent history of enhanced use leases and using community partners on our campus here,” Dayton VA Director Mark Murdock said. “I think one of things we want people to see is there are great opportunities. This is really a hidden gem in the Gem City when you take a look at the Dayton VA campus, and we’re not only vitally important to veterans, but we’re vitally important to the community as well, and those partnerships just continue to make us stronger.”
Historically, the Dayton campus was a residential haven for Civil War veterans long before it served medical needs, said Tim Bete, president of St. Mary Development Corp.
“When we talked with Congressman (Mike) Turner, I thought this was a great vision. He said, ‘Let’s move it back in that direction,’” Bete recalled of making plans for St Mary’s own EUL project.
‘This is an oasis’
St. Mary was awarded a $5.1 million U.S. Housing and Urban Development grant to finance the Lyons Place II EUL project, allowing construction of a 55-unit senior housing facility in 2015 for low-income residents, with a preference for veterans.
McBride Place provided 64 more units in its opening this year. And Bete said St. Mary is considering a third facility. It’s all the same EUL, he said.
The attraction for veterans should be clear, Bete said.
“You’ll have a vet who’s going for therapy three times a week,” Bete said. “He might be traveling 45 minutes or an hour. ... They can say, ‘I don’t have to travel. I can live right here.’”
In fact, VA personnel can take residents to appointments in golf carts.
“This is an oasis,” Bete said. “It’s beautiful. It’s safe. You have ponds. You have all the different health and other services. It’s just a wonderful place for veterans.”
Roth, who is not a veteran, lives in the campus’ old General Franklin building, first built in 1901. The facility houses disabled single adults who have experienced homelessness, again with a preference for serving veterans.
“They really came through for me,” Roth said.
Leases of up to 99 years
In an Oct. 25 online meeting, VA officials noted the Dayton VA’s past EUL partnerships, the National Cemetery (adjacent to the campus) and the upcoming history center, as well as other amenities.
The VA Medical Center anchors the campus, a hospital that drew 276,072 primary-care appointments last year, a number that does not include mental health services.
VA leaders are looking for EUL ideas that will complement all of that, while helping homeless and at-risk veterans.
An enhanced use lease is not a land sale, VA leaders emphasized. The leases allow the VA to lease underutilized land or buildings for up to 99 years. Developers are expected to finance, build and maintain their projects.
The VA can negotiate terms of the development, and at the end of the lease, use of the land or property reverts back to the VA.
Nationwide, the VA has had 106 EUL projects since 1991, from California to Maine.
The types of uses on offer include permanent or transitional housing for veterans, single homes, independent living and assisted living sites and other housing modalities.
Restoration of historical properties, such as the campus Freedom House and the Liberty House, are also possibilities, particularly for businesses or organizations looking to establish a regional headquarters on federal land. Both buildings have suffered years of non-use but they offer a lot of square footage and historic facades, Murdock said.
“I think it’s really property-by-property, as far as the what is the best fit,” he said.
Requests for quotations. and proposals will be released before the end of calendar year 2022. Due diligence and environmental studies will happen, as well. Organizations will be able to find the solicitations on www.Sam.gov.
Count MVHO’s Robinson as a fan of EULs. “I just think it’s a great way to improve or increase the amount of housing that’s available to folks in our community.”
Attitudes are changing. Previously, if a non-profit wanted to develop property on the VA campus, the process was trickier, she said. Major funders and lenders have started to recognize the value of using federal property. Before, they wanted MVHO (and organizations like it) to own the property, she said.
But a 99-year federal lease represents significant and extended control, she and Bete said.
“They have changed their rules, yes, so they do recognize the value,” Robinson said.
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