Housing the Homeless in Abandoned Military Bases

March 31st, 2009 - by admin

Office of Housing and Urban Development & The Washington Post & The New York Times – 2009-03-31 00:59:39

Guidebook on Military Base Reuse and Homeless Assistance
Office of Community Planning and Development
Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs

(July 2006) — For more than four decades, the US Department of Defense (DoD) has closed or realigned military installations to reduce overhead, enhance readiness and modernization, and adjust to the realities of changing international relations. The resulting impact on surrounding communities is often dramatic.

Many communities have successfully converted these former installations to civilian uses such as parks and other recreational facilities, business centers, market-rate housing, affordable housing, and transitional housing for homeless persons. Since the late 1980s, the base closure process and the role of local communities in planning for their transition to civilian use have evolved significantly.

In 1987, Congress enacted the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act. Title V of that Act made serving the homeless the first priority for use of all surplus Federal properties, including military installations. Congress did not anticipate the scope of military base closures and realignments nor how the Title V priority of the McKinney Act would affect reuse of the installations.

In 1988, the Secretary of Defense chartered the first Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC Commission). The BRAC Commission recommended closing 86 installations and the partial closure or realignment of 59 others. The Base Closure and Realignment Act of 1990 established the first independent commission “to provide a fair process that will result in the timely closure and realignment of military installations inside the United States.”

This law authorized the creation of an independent BRAC Commission to recommend installation realignments and closures in 1991, 1993, 1995, and now 2005.

Early in the 1990s, most individuals involved in base reuse concluded that Title V of the McKinney-Vento Act did not adequately address all multiple interests related to large parcels of surplus Federal properties such as military bases.

Therefore, in 1994, DoD; the U.S. Departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Veterans Affairs (VA),
and Health and Human Services (HHS); the General Services Administration (GSA); and homeless assistance providers and other community groups recommended changes to the McKinney Act that led to enactment of the Base Closure Community Redevelopment and Homeless Assistance Act of 1994 (the Redevelopment Act).

The Redevelopment Act, which was amended in 1996, remains in effect and governs the 2005 installation realignments and closures.

The President approved the 2005 BRAC Commission recommendations on September 8, 2005. Those approved recommendations were sent to the Congress on September 23, 2005 and became law on November 9, 2005.

Military Bases May Be Used For Homeless
The Washington Post

WASHINGTON (February 3, 1993) — The Clinton administration is drafting a plan to use decommissioned military bases and other suitable federal facilities to house the homeless, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros said yesterday.

Cisneros said he and other government officials are working “to present to the president a plan that he could announce as an executive order urging the cooperation of all federal resources on the homeless problem.”

“Not all military bases that are being decommissioned make sense” because of their location, he said on NBC’s “Today” program. “But there are any number that are near …

Fight to House Homeless at Old Missile Base Turns Nasty
Robert Hanley / The New York Times

(August 28, 1990) — Someone poured gasoline outside Sgt. Johnnie Peters’s home at a defunct Nike missile site here last week in another expression of vandalism and hostility surrounding a plan to turn the old military base and its 36 bungalow-style homes into a project for the homeless.

The Pentagon has declared the site surplus in a cost-cutting move, and a nasty political and personal fight has ensued between town officials and an anti-poverty agency that is sponsoring the plan for the homeless.

Windows of the empty military housing have been spray-painted, mailboxes and trash cans have been stolen, and men driving past at night with bullhorns have shouted at the last five National Guard families on the base to get out.

Town officials theorize that neighbors who want to see the base bungalows razed and middle-income housing built may be behind the vandalism.

Two Other Bases Affected
Similar plans for the homeless have been proposed at other surplus former Nike bases in Mahwah, N.J., and Westport, Conn. But tensions in Tappan are the highest. Until the 1960’s, the three bases were part of a defensive missile ring around New York City.

The hostility here has stunned Sergeant Peters and four other Guard families left on a post that resembles a ghost town. Sergeant Peters, who has been in the New York National Guard for 15 years and whose husband has been hospitalized, says the community is indifferent to their plight.

”If the community cares about us, help us,” she said. ”Military people can’t function under conditions such as these. You don’t have your freedom. Where’s their heart? I need to know – where do I go? This is America. What do I do?” The five Guard families here are not the only ones in the region on the verge of being made homeless for the sake of the civilian homeless.

Deadline in Mahwah
At the surplus base in Mahwah, seven New Jersey National Guard families face a Sept. 15 deadline to leave unless Bergen County, which has proposed housing the homeless at the site, the military and Mahwah officials can untangle themselves from a bureaucratic Catch 22.

Bergen County wants the seven Guard families to live with homeless people it would place at the base under a Federal law, the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act, which gives the homeless top priority on surplus Federal property.

But the military, apparently concerned about image, will not permit its personnel to live in projects for the homeless created under the McKinney Act. However, they would be permitted in developments that included some homeless people but created under different auspices.

”Military people cannot qualify for housing under the McKinney Act,” said one military official familiar with the Mahwah case. ”The only way the soldiers can stay is if the town buys the property for affordable housing.”

Decision in Westport
Westport resolved the status of its old Nike base in that fashion. After negotiations, a advocacy group for the homeless withdrew its McKinney Act application for the site, and Westport agreed to buy it and its 16 military homes, with 13 homes set aside for low-and moderate-income residents and the three others for the homeless.

The plan will not go into effect until 11 military families now on the site are transferred to new posts by 1993.

Bergen officials say they are considering withdrawing their McKinney Act applications. Mahwah would then be clear to buy or lease the land from the Pentagon for an affordable-housing project for elderly and young people squeezed out of the private market and for Guard families unable to find new housing.

Like the five families in limbo in Tappan, the seven in Mahwah say they cannot afford private rental housing on their military housing allowance, which ranges from $500 to $700, depending on rank.

‘We Don’t Understand’
”We’re devastated,” said Sgt. Robert Vuinovich, a New Jersey National Guard member for 18 years who has a wife and two teen-aged children. ”We work for the state and Federal Government, and we don’t understand why they’re putting us on the outside. But we’ve been fighting this since January, and we’re going to go down fighting.”

After the Nike missiles were phased out, the 36 homes in Tappan and the 24 in Mahwah were filled by recruiting sergeants for the regular military branches and full-time National Guard sergeants who run the administrative and training affairs of Guard companies. All the regular military personnel at Tappan and Mahwah have been transferred to new duty stations and homes, and Guard personnel with nearby families have moved in with them.

The remaining 12 families are isolated now.

”My family is in South Carolina,” Sergeant Peters said. ”That’s 856 miles from here.”

Leasing of Site Approved
A New York National Guard housing official, Maj. Richard Vargus, said the five Tappan families had rejected military housing at either Fort Hamilton in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn or Fort Totten in Bayside, Queens, in hopes that the Town of Orangetown would obtain the site and allow them to remain.

But the fate of the old base is now embroiled in a bitter struggle between Orangetown officials and Joseph J. Lundy, head of a private anti-poverty group, the Rockland Community Action Council.

The council has a McKinney Act application, approved by the Federal Department of Health and Human Services, to lease the site and put 36 homeless families there. Mr. Lundy expects that monthly state aid of about $3,200 for each of the 36 families would give the council, as the landlord, net annual income of about $1 million.

Mr. Lundy’s plan drew stiff opposition in Orangetown, a community with a long tradition of self-reliance and abhorrence of Federal grants. Amid the opposition, Mr. Lundy offered a compromise on the 36 houses if the McKinney application was withdrawn: 17 houses would be preserved as affordable homes for town volunteer firemen and Civil Service workers, 14 would be set aside for Guard families, and five would be for the homeless.

Compromise Talks Collapse
Orangetown officials accepted that ratio but rejected Mr. Lundy’s plan to keep control of the land and his refusal to restrict the five houses for the homeless to local residents.

Compromise talks have collapsed. The Rockland County Department of Social Services has withdrawn its support of the council’s McKinney application, citing concern about creation of a ”welfare ghetto” and Mr. Lundy’s $1 million income projection from a 36-unit project for the homeless.

”All he talks about is money and control,” an Orangetown Councilman, Thomas J. Swift, said of Mr. Lundy.

Mr. Lundy said he now planned a project entirely for the homeless.

”I wanted a win-win situation for everybody,” Mr. Lundy said. ”I got my nose bloodied. My training is as a businessman with a social conscience, and my job is making capitalism and the economic system work for the benefit of the poor.’

• Plans to turn a defunct Nike missile site at Tappan, N.Y., into a project for the homeless may leave Sgt. Johnnie Peters without the home she has lived in for 14 years. She and four families are living on the former National Guard post. (pg. B1);
• The Tappan post resembles a ghost town today, and the families there say they cannot afford private rental housing on their military allowances. (Alan Zale for The New York Times);
• map of Orangetown, New York showing location of Missile Base. (pg. B4)

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