A Place to Call Home for U.S. Veterans in Rancho Cordova, CA

ARTICLE | Oct 10, 2016

In August, Rancho Cordova, CA made regional history by opening the doors of the new Mather Veterans Village—the first permanent supportive housing facility for homeless and disabled veterans in the Sacramento region. The Village includes 50 permanent supportive homes and supportive services that range from counseling to job training. And this is just Phase I – Phases II and III of the project will result in an additional 50 permanent-supportive homes and as many as 50 transitional units for our veterans.

Interview with Mayor David Sander, Rancho Cordova, California 

Welcome to the Neighborhood, We are so glad you are here. – Mayor David Sander, Opening Ceremony

Tell us about how this project came about:

The City of Rancho Cordova incorporated in 2003, which included the former Mather Air Force Base and a Veterans Administration (VA) hospital. With our city’s strong military heritage, the continued medical services to veterans, and space available at the former base, it made sense to pursue a project that would honor veterans and provide them with a place to call home.

We started creating the vision for Mather Veterans Village almost 10 years ago, and moving the project forward has had its challenges.  In a Veterans Affairs meeting in Washington, DC, HUD and the VA agreed that Rancho Cordova would be an ideal community to provide this type of facility. While on the journey to completion of the project, we often had conflicting tasks which caused us to go back and forth between  a number of federal, state and local agencies. This was the first time our city found itself entangled with the complexities involved in a multi-agency, multi-level government project of this type. Thankfully, we are a young, nimble, risk-taking and aggressive city organization and were able to find solutions to the various hurdles we faced. We believed in this project, so we and our partners – the County of Sacramento, Mercy Housing California and Veterans Resource Centers of America – went to great lengths to ensure it came to fruition. We wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.

What types of hurdles did you face during the project?

One specific hurdle included issues with regional allocation of the Veterans Supportive Housing Credit, which is sort of like the more well-known Section 8 program, only the VA commits credits to a region to help veterans get housing.  We had a great project but because we are smaller city in size, and the new kid on the block, it was politically difficult for us to get the attention of the awarding agency, which was a Sacramento-based housing authority.  Historically the housing authority hadn’t worked with cities of our size.

And even within our partnership, Sacramento County as a land owner did not want to give up the targeted land for the site for free – many within the their agency were focused on earning a high return for the County on the development of this site. However, because of the end goal, and the fact that the main focus of the project was about veterans, and our proposal truly outperformed others – those barriers were overcome.  In addition, we possessed a trump card.  As a young fiscally healthy city we were prepared and ready with cash to contribute to the completion of the project. We were also very ready to partner which was unique for a city of our size and this put us at an advantage with these agencies and partners.

What are some of the primary benefits of the project?

Mather Veterans Village provides a sense of community for veterans who have served and have faced homelessness. A place like Mather Veterans Village capitalizes on the comradery between veterans, providing supportive services unique to the veteran homeless population, along with a safe and vibrant setting in a welcoming community. This, combined with the VA hospital which is a block away, job training, transportation assistance and other pertinent services means the residents of Mather Veterans Village have easy access to virtually whatever support they need.

Advice to other cities?

I would encourage cities that wish to provide this level of service to veterans to think long term. This is not something you can complete quickly and a lot of money is involved. Also think in-depth – our first phase is for 50 veterans, and the next phase is for transitional services that provides more aid to another 50 vets in the community.  Phase III of the project is permanent housing for yet another 50 veterans, and Phase IV will pursue the Ronald McDonald House model for the support of the families of veterans seeking care at the VA Hospital. We have thought beyond today and created a holistic approach which will take time to complete. With each phase comes a sense of hope and accomplishment for how far we’ve come, but also a sense of how much more there is to do for our veterans. Despite this, our organization chose to take a risk and to get involved because without risk there is no real reward. So we will move to completion of each phase with the intention of doing the best job we can.

Describe the impact the project had on your team:

During the opening ceremony of Phase I, I saw the tears from our employees. The stories the vets shared during the ceremony and privately were that moving.  Many of these staff have literally worked on this project for ten years, and we are all so grateful to our partners for their help in making this endeavor possible. As a city we are making a statement that is far better than saying “thank you for your service” to the vets we meet in the streets. We still say that, by the way. But now we can also say, “Here is a place you can call home.” That is the ultimate thank you.

What is it like to work at a City like Rancho Cordova?

The way we are organized as a city is designed to spur innovation.  Most agencies have flow charts and org charts – here at Rancho Cordova we are team focused and goal oriented. Anyone can pitch in on projects from any department. Our Economic Development Director headed up this project, and staff members from our building inspectors to finance to marketing all contributed their gifts to the successful completion of Phase I of this project!  That's our secret to success –promote individual initiative, long-term vision, healthy risk taking and innovation to accomplish some audacious goals.

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