Legislation Proposed to House West LA Homeless Vets

Aug 7, 2015

 

Building 208 (left) and Building 209 on the West Los Angeles VA campus.
Credit Nancy Pastor for NPR

Legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate and House outlines a plan to build housing on the West L.A. veterans campus. A lawsuit settled earlier this year targeted past VA mismanagement failures on the campus.

California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and Representative Ted Lieu of Torrance proposed a bill Thursday that aims to facilitate housing for veterans at the West Los Angeles Campus. 

The VA-supported legislation, introduced to the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees by Sen. Feinstein, outlines a plan that would allow the department to carry out leases at the 387-acre campus with third parties to benefit homeless and disadvantaged veterans. 

The lawmakers said in a letter to the committee that the bill would authorize "enhanced use leases" for the West L.A. Campus “for the sole purpose of providing supportive housing.” 

“We support giving the department this authority, but believe it should be restricted to providing critical benefits for veterans, including homeless, disabled, aging and women veterans," read the statement.

The bill limits what kind of leases would be permissible, including to fund services such as health, education and training for veterans. It also would require an annual report to Congress of all the leases and land-sharing agreements at the campus.

With the VA facing a nationwide backlog for new construction - and a funding shortfall of billions of dollars - this bill allows the agency to create new housing in West LA much faster than the agency could on its own. The VA will be able to lease parcels of land to nonprofits to build and run housing.

This particular legislation wasn’t meant to create immediate housing," said Attorney Gary Blasi, who sued the VA on behalf of homeless veterans. "It was meant to create a funding mechanism that would allow housing to begin to be financed immediately. But it will take some time."

To repay their loans, the nonprofits would take housing vouchers from the federal government and try to get grants from state, county, and city governments. They can also raise money through private donations.

The Department of Veterans Affairs released a statement praising the legislation Thursday.  

"This legislation, if passed, will greatly enhance our ability to end Veteran homelessness in Greater Los Angeles," it read. " Working collaboratively with our partners at all levels of government and the private sector is an important step to providing Veterans with the best care possible in the most timely way."

A lawsuit settled earlier this year called attention to the mismanagement of the property in the past.