Garrison For Veterans is delighted to be apart of the Freedom's Path Augusta III Development Team responsible for the adaptive-reuse of two historic buildings on the Charlie Norwood Veterans Affairs Medical Center campus. Freedom's Path at Augusta, Georgia III, is a Public-Private Veteran Housing Development with the Department of Veterans Affairs. The Freedom's Path Development Team is a Veteran Housing Development Joint Venture between Garrison For Veterans, Solutions For Veterans, Affordable Housing Solutions, and Wellington Development Company.
For over ten years, the US Department of Veterans Affairs has been trying to address several issues through one creative program called the Building Utilization Review and Repurposing (BURR) initiative. Based on an audit of all VA facilities completed in 2011, it was determined that there were approximately 1,400 vacant buildings on VA Medical Center campuses. The VA was spending millions to maintain the buildings to no benefit of anyone. At the same time, it was reported through the Annual Homeless Assessment Report provided to Congress each year that there were almost 100,000 homeless Veterans across the country, not to mention the number of disabled, senior and lowincome Veterans who were poorly housed or grossly rent-burdened. This appalling situation was characterized as a national disgrace by politicians and bureaucrats across the political and agency landscape. The VA decided to make a bold attempt to recruit the private sector in an effort to eliminate functional Veteran homelessness, reduce the number of vacant buildings on its campuses, and enhance the provision of services being offered to its homeless, disabled and low-income Veterans through creative partnerships with developers and non-VA services providers. Using its Congressionally approved ability to lease land on its campuses (Enhanced Use Lease or EUL authority), the VA issued Requests for Proposals across the country for this purpose. Solutions for Veterans (SFV) responded to several of these RFP’s and was eventually selected to redevelop this Charlie Norwood VA/Augusta project, among others. Over the years (since 2012), SFV has been involved in the development of ten completed Enhanced Use Lease projects, with two additional EULs in predevelopment and construction. Of those ten completed developments are Freedom’s Path Augusta I and II a historic preservation, adaptive reuse development which converted 3 historic buildings on the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center campus into 98 units of affordable housing for U.S. military Vets. When completed, we will provide a total of 535 units of housing for homeless, near homeless, disabled and senior low-income Veterans in seven states. This Augusta project represents the 13th project to be redeveloped.
Freedom’s Path Augusta III is located at 1 Freedom Way, Augusta, GA 30904, which is on the campus of the Uptown Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center. This project will restore the original historic character of two historic VA structures Buildings 19 and 20, converting 92,000 square foot space into 76 units of new affordable Veterans housing. Originally constructed by the Sisters of St. Joseph as a Catholic boarding school, the Lenwood Hospital is a 1914 historic building with three connected wings, referred to as Buildings 18, 19, and 20. The buildings were leased to the Public Health Service (PHS) in 1920, to be upfitted into a hospital to serve servicemen with nervous and psychiatric disorders. The PHS, later the Veterans Administration, chose the building as it would be easily converted for their needs and included 20 acres of land they could expand on. Lenwood Hospital is one of only a few surviving examples of early VA hospitals. It falls under First-Generation Veterans Hospitals (1866-1930) and is one of few examples of existing buildings being upfitted for this use. The building was partly chosen for its easy conversion to a hospital as well as the 20 acres of land that was leased with it. Theories around medical care, especially for those with mental traumas from war, where rapidly changing around this time. Open air and a tranquil setting were becoming important aspects of veterans’ care. Lenwood Hospital was also updated with the newest medical treatment rooms. As medical treatments changed, and the Norwood VA Medical Center expanded, the Lenwood Hospital building underwent different renovation campaigns to meet current needs and provide the best care. The VA continued to expand the Norwood VA Medical Center until 1981, when the campus had 55 buildings. An extensive survey was done in 1981 of all the existing buildings on the site. It was determined that most were too damaged to repair, as the cost outweighed the benefit. Medical treatments and VA hospitals had also changed how they operated, and fewer employees were housed on the campus, and open land was not as much of a priority. A large new facility was built, and the existing buildings were either torn down, repurposed if the cost was not too great, or left empty. The Lenwood Hospital has sat empty until 2008, when Building 18 was rehabilitated for Veterans housing which was a part of Freedom’s Path Augusta I and II. The interior of Building 19 will be rehabilitated into 42 affordable veteran housing units comprised of 25 studio apartments and 17 one-bedrooms. Building 20 will be rehabilitated into 34 units comprised of 22 studio apartments and 12 one-bedrooms. All units will have a leasing preference being provided to Veterans who are homeless, near homeless, or disabled, who meet the income guidelines of the program. As noted above, the housing will include a preference for Veterans, but will not be exclusively restricted to Veterans. Conversely, Veterans with a HUD-VASH Housing Choice Voucher will be given a Housing First preference, meaning that typical underwriting that might preclude the Veteran from being able to access standard rental housing (e.g. job history, criminal record, prior rental history) will be relaxed. The criterion for admission will be predicated on their selection for a Voucher by the administering Augusta Housing Authority.
It has been shown that Veterans living with other Veterans, in proximity to the panoply of VA services that are available to them via immediate access to the VA Medical Center that an on-campus housing option affords to them has a remarkable success rate regarding remaining in permanent housing and moving forward with education, employment and life enrichment activities. This is the model of housing and services, both VA and non-VA provided, that is being emulated here. The City of Augusta has embraced this project and its goals, demonstrated in part by including this area of housing in its redevelopment plan. In addition to the VA itself, which will provide a tremendous array of medical, pharmacy, therapeutic and rehabilitation services to the future Veteran residents, Solutions for Veterans (SFV) is involved as a joint venture partner with Affordable Housing Solutions, Wellington Development Company, and Garrison For Veterans bringing local knowledge, relationships, services and resources to the project. To more effectively ensure that Veteran owned businesses are central to this effort, Garrison For Veterans, LLC (GFV) has been added to the Development Team. GFV is a Service-Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business committed to real estate development for active and reserve military, veterans, and affiliated civilians. Garrison For Veterans is an integral part of the overall Development Team. The company has been involved in Enhanced Use Lease projects since 2017 and will utilize that experience to enhance the outreach and utilization of Veterans’ businesses. Solutions for Veterans has been recognized as the mentoring entity for GFV and will build upon that relationship by utilizing the EUL program as a central training venue. The project will be financed using the availability of the land and buildings at no cost from the VA, federal and state historic tax credits, along with low-income housing tax credits. This is a model of financing that SFV has used in all of its other VA projects. Given the population being served, this allows SFV the ability to utilize free cash flow to augment the VA and other non-profit services by flowing back into the project additional financial resources. The resident population will be drawn primarily from Veterans who are being treated at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center as a transition from in-patient treatment programs to an out-patient locally housed situation. Further, Veterans reporting to the medical center as homeless or near homeless will be referred by the homeless coordinator for HUD-VASH voucher approval, or if resources through disability payments or other income can ensure the payment of rents, through direct provision of housing at the property. The point here is that the VA Medical Center will be the primary locus of identification of Veterans who would need and benefit from the housing. The project will be managed by Cushman & Wakefield, a nationally recognized affordable housing property manager that manages all of the other Freedom’s Path Veteran projects around the country.