Veterans Have a Secret Weapon to Deal with Homelessness: Land. A unique partnership will convert an old American Legion Post into affordable housing for veterans.
ARLINGTON, Va.—When Bob Romano was installed as commander of American Legion Post 139 in 2014, his family attended the ceremony. Walking out of the veterans facility in Virginia Square, his wife turned to him and said, “I’m never going back in that building.”
Romano has known for some time that the 60-year-old building, its walls reeking of more than half a century of cigarette smoke and needing a laundry list of expensive repairs, would no longer sustain its 300 members. Membership was dwindling, particularly among young veterans.
“We were going broke,” he said. “We realized that in five years, Post 139 wasn’t going to be there.”
They received offers from developers eager to convert the property near George Mason University. But American Legion officials decided to do something that would be unique in the nation: create a partnership with a local housing nonprofit. In 2016, the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH) bought the 1.4-acre parcel in Arlington for approximately $9 million.
“We were in a very unique situation where the land was worth a great investment,” Romano said. “And we invested it back into the veterans.”
The current building will be torn down in early 2020. In its place, APAH will build 160 units of affordable housing, half of which will go to homeless veterans. Post 139 will have its own space on the first floor of the quarters, with modernized facilities, Wi-Fi access, projector screens and multi-use halls. The plan is to open the residential units—APAH’s 17th property in Arlington—to applicants on a first-come basis in summer 2022.
“What’s really interesting to me is that here we are in Arlington, home of the Pentagon, Arlington Cemetery, Joint Base Henderson Hall-Fort Myer, and we have no active military presence really in the community,” said APAH CEO and President Nina Janopaul. “I’m old enough to remember when we didn’t celebrate our returning Vietnam veterans, and I think that as a nation, we really have pivoted on that. If we’re not happy with a conflict, we don’t blame it on the young men and women who served our nation.”