KC homeless vets project to get started next year

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Construction is scheduled to begin early next year on a center designed to provide housing and services for homeless veterans in Kansas City that organizers believe could serve as a national model for once completed.

The St. Michael’s Veterans Center will be spread across 24 acres just southeast of the VA Medical Center, according to a proposal that beat out three multi-family housing proposals for land where a decrepit 198-unit public housing project once stood, The Kansas City Star reports.

The Holy Temple Homes units were torn down years ago, and neighbors said the vacant site eventually became blighted, overgrown and an occasional dumping ground.

The Kansas City Economic Development Corp. eventually took control of the land, and in 2011 city officials sought proposals for redevelopment of the property. A committee chose the St. Michaels concept, presented by Catholic Charities in partnership with Yarco, a development company that specializes in multi-family housing.

That proposal envisions a $34 million complex with about 180 units of affordable housing in three buildings. The project also will include a service center to provide case management, mental health care, job training, computer skills, vocational rehabilitation and an outpatient medical and dental office.

“It’s a great location, on a bus route, a beautiful piece of ground,” said Art Fillmore, a Kansas City lawyer and Vietnam combat veteran who has been a longtime advocate for veterans. “For 20 years, I’ve been looking for something like this. We don’t need a dormitory. We need a campus.”

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates there are more than 1,800 homeless military veterans in the Kansas City community, according to the St. Michael’s proposal.

Developers have toured and learned from a veterans service project in California, said Stuart Bullington, who runs the city’s housing and community development division. He said the Kansas City center will be a distinctive development for the region, especially because of its proximity to the VA Medical Center.

Fillmore also believes the significance of the Kansas City project will go way beyond regional boundaries.

“There are facilities like this, but no campus like this anywhere,” he said. “Nothing like 24 acres dedicated to the homeless vet problem.”

Much of the funding for the project is expected to come from tax credits, although the city is contributing funds to prepare the site. Construction of the first phase, expected to start early next year, will be 58 units of one-bedroom housing in one building at a cost of $11 million. It is to be funded primarily by low-income tax credit equity.

Fillmore and other advocates also plan to raise money for a garden honoring all armed forces and the National Guard as a way to enhance the campus landscape and give residents a serene place to visit.

The first building will not be the service center, but it will have offices for case management and education until the service center is built, Yarco development director Mike Grube said. The goal is to finish the first building by the end of 2013.

Subsequent buildings will be constructed when financing allows. Joe Egan, executive director of Kansas City’s Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority, predicts the St. Michael’s project should qualify for additional public financing.

The project won’t solve Kansas City’s entire homeless veterans problem, but it will be a great start, Fillmore said.

“When these vets are doing things with each other, they encourage each other and become friends. It becomes a homelike environment,” he said. “I’m really excited and think it’s going to be a huge success.”

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