Look at the data on veteran homelessness in Metro Denver and you’ll see a strange pattern: despite qualifying for federally backed housing vouchers, many homeless veterans have been unable to find housing, because they can’t find landlords to rent to them. In one of the fastest-growing markets in the country, with few vacant apartments, Denver’s homeless veterans discovered that fixed-amount subsidies, even at average rent levels, put them at a disadvantage in an overheated market.
“We knew we needed to get veterans into housing more quickly, but the supply just wasn’t there,” says Melanie Lewis Dickerson, who has worked to reduce homelessness in Denver for 10 years. She currently serves as the Large-Scale Change Portfolio Manager on our Built for Zero team.
A typical solution might involve developing new affordable housing using federal tax credits. But this traditional development process takes years. Even emergent funding models, like social impact bonds, are complex with high transaction costs. This year, we sidestepped both approaches by bringing together private donors willing to invest their own capital at a below-market rate of return to buy an existing apartment building for homeless veterans. The result? A 90-day closing and veterans moving into their own homes within months, not years.
“Using this data, communities can target their efforts at what will drive reductions in homelessness while also looking at the bigger picture to think about specific gaps in resources that require creative solutions.”
— Melanie Lewis Dickerson
We purchased the Abrigo Apartments in Aurora, Colorado, as the first phase of an initiative that will eventually bring many more units online for veterans in the Denver metro area and accelerate progress in ending veteran homelessness there. With nearly 300 veterans remaining on Metro Denver’s current by-name list of those experiencing homelessness, this accelerated housing pipeline can’t come too soon.
Adding to Metro Denver’s supply of affordable housing for veterans was a direct response to the area’s data. The specific housing needs of veterans could be understood as our team helped the community improve its data on homelessness. Today Denver has a comprehensive, continuously updated by-name list of every veteran and disabled adult experiencing homelessness. That list allows local leaders to observe the dynamics of homelessness in their community over time and to prioritize their resources for the most vulnerable individuals. It also allows them to parse out larger trends in their data, like the decline in landlords accepting vouchers, and focus on high-impact solutions, like the Abrigo Apartments.
“Using this data, communities can target their efforts at what will drive reductions in homelessness while also looking at the bigger picture to think about specific gaps in resources that require creative solutions,” says Melanie. “Our team has the skills to help them on both fronts.”