Rent Too High For Veterans

WHEELING – Wanted: affordable housing for homeless veterans in the Wheeling area.

Lisa Badia, executive director of the Greater Wheeling Coalition for the Homeless, said her agency has received $130,000 in Department of Veterans Affairs funding to help house and case manage homeless veterans, but she can’t find landlords willing to lower their rent prices.

Badia said the coalition can only pay fair market rental rates as determined by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. For example, rent for a two-bedroom apartment including utilities must not exceed $614 a month.

“The rents are high – they’re fetching more than fair market rent and people are staying put. At some point when prices goes up, demand goes up. When there is a lack of resources only the top tier people get to consume those resources. The lower income people are priced out of the market,” she said. “People are scraping (the money) together and staying put.”

Coalition housing intake specialist Brandon McLendon compiled data that showed the median rent price increased from $569 in 2010 for a two-bedroom apartment to $820 in 2013.

In addition to the high prices, Badia said there aren’t enough apartments available. Since starting the new housing for veterans program this year, Badia already is halfway to her estimated goal of housing 25 veterans. But she has eight veterans waiting for housing who are living in emergency shelters.

“The landlord might make less money than what they could get from another entity, but they will have a better quality tenant because we are helping them get over what caused their homelessness,” Badia said. “The only way it works is when landlords come to the table who have units and make them affordable.”

Many landlords started raising their rental prices when gas and oil workers came to the area to live while working. But Badia believes there may still be some landlords willing to help. Those interested can call the coalition at 304-232-6105. The properties must be located within the coalition’s service area which includes Brooke, Hancock, Ohio and Marshall counties.

“I know there are people who have a heart for the homeless and homeless veterans out there,” she said.

John Looney, Wheeling Vet Center team leader, said his agency counsels local veterans and works to help them find services such as those provided by the coalition.

“When one thinks of a homeless veteran they picture a dirty bearded fellow living under a bridge. He is an unsheltered veteran and you would not know his name. But you may know the name of a guy or gal living with friends or family because their job does not pay enough for them to own or rent a home. These veterans are sleeping on couches. They may be single parents living with their own parents. These are the sheltered homeless veterans. These are the veterans that do not know that (the Department of Veterans Affairs) can help them,” Looney said. “We are grateful for all local participating agencies and hope to get more of our unsheltered veterans services.”

The coalition applied for the funding as part of Northern Panhandle Continuum of Care, which is a group of social service agencies. Other agencies that received money to provide services to veterans included Helping Heroes of Moundsville and Change Inc. of Weirton.

Badia said in the past only 10 percent of the people the coalition helped have been veterans. She believes that number is only the “tip of the iceberg.”

Before starting the program, Badia sent letters to various organizations and clubs connected to veterans, asking if anyone had rental property available. No one replied, she said.

She also sought units at public housing agencies such as the Wheeling Housing Authority, but they also have waiting lists.