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Poway Mayor Steve Vaus defended the rejection of a low-income housing project for veterans by saying the project never guaranteed veterans would live there exclusively.
Former Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher and Poway Mayor Steve Vaus had a Twitter spat about why a Habitat for Humanity project for low-income veterans was really killed, after we published a story about how the fears of low-income housing drove the denial of the project.
“Poway rejection of vets housing not $ or traffic. Race & class. But am sure those who killed it wear flag lapel pins,” tweeted Fletched.
“If the project was guaranteed exclusive for vets you MIGHT have a point. It wasn’t. You don’t.” Vaus responded.
The veteran residency guarantee was one of a long list of issues that the mayor, the City Council members who opposed the project and residents said they weren’t in favor of.
Habitat for Humanity San Diego had proposed building 22 for-sale, affordable homes for veterans on a roughly 2.5-acre piece of land that the city is legally bound to use for subsidized housing. After months of contentious public hearings, the City Council rejected the project with a 3-2 vote in November.
The veteran residency issue was part of a larger issue that those opposed to the project had latched onto – the breakdown of a partnership between Habitat and the California Department of Veteran Affairs. CalVet had left the deal early in 2015, shortly after the city of Poway had entered into an agreement with Habitat for Humanity.
Since then, the City Council has voted unanimously at least once to extend its negotiating agreement with Habitat.
The City Council members and the mayor who voted against the project more than a year later cited the departure of CalVet as one of their biggest issues with the project. They said that with CalVet’s departure, the project lost funding, wraparound services and the guarantee that veterans would live in those homes.
Here’s what we know about those claims:
CalVet would have provided additional funding to the project.
But Habitat’s CEO Lori Holt Pfeiler told me that Habitat had already committed to using its own reserves and fundraising to make up the funding difference when CalVet left. According to a December letter from Habitat for Humanity to Poway city officials, there would have been a $2.6 million gap even if CalVet was still part of the picture.
CalVet requires wraparound services – social, medical and other services veterans may need – to be part of any project it helps funds. CalVet does not provide those services, though. Whether CalVet was involved in the project or not, Habitat of Humanity San Diego would have had to provide those services, and said at a July 19 City Council meeting they would do so even after the agency left.
On Twitter Thursday, Vaus said that when CalVet left, the guarantee that veterans would live in those homes left, too.
But there’s no reason to believe those homes wouldn’t go to veterans.
CalVet exclusively gives its loans to veterans, which would guarantee that each home went to a veteran. Part of the veteran’s loan would be advanced to help Habitat fund the construction of their home.
Veterans are a protected group under fair housing laws. That means that developers can offer veterans a priority for their homes. In the case that not enough veterans want to live in a given development, however, the law is written in such a way that other groups can access those homes after they’ve been offered to veterans in the region so they won’t remain empty.
Habitat San Diego could give “preference” to veterans, which meant that it would first offer and publicize its homes to veterans. If it couldn’t find 22 veterans in San Diego County who wanted to purchase the subsidized homes, then it would offer them to other low-income families.
Holt Pfeiler told me that there were more than 100 people – all veterans – on the project’s interest list already.