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Desert Communities Fuller Center Focuses Attention On Veterans Housing
By Chris Johnson
Submitted On September 26, 2012
The Desert Communities Fuller Center for Housing formed just a few months ago in Palm Springs, Calif., and became official just last week, but the new covenant partner already has identified a specific area in which it can make an immediate impact — housing for veterans.
The Federal Home Loan Bank-Atlanta offers funding up to $15,000 per house to help veterans with housing needs such as repairs, accessibility modifications and weatherization. And the Veterans Foreclosure Recovery Product provides us to $15,000 in down payment, closing costs and rehabilitation funding for the purchase and rehabilitation of an existing home from the Real Estate Owned (REO) inventory of any FHLBank Atlanta member or member’s affiliate or housing associate member.
In short, that makes the FHLBank Atlanta’s program for veterans a great fit for The Fuller Center’s Save a House/Make a Home initiative that takes unwanted vacant properties off the hands of banks and investors and then repairs them for families in need of a decent home.
“We’re talking about Save a House married to veterans,” said Desert Communities FCH President Jeff Moritz, himself an Army veteran from the Vietnam era, though he says he never made it into the country during the conflict. He and Desert Communities Vice-President Cindy Pieper are meeting over the next several days with leaders of various groups in the community who serve veterans and have expressed interest in The Fuller Center’s work. Moritz said that such groups and city officials were among those who attended a Desert Communities kickoff event last week.
“By all reports, from the feedback we’re getting, it was a rousing success,” Moritz said of the casual buffet-style gathering that attracted more than 70 people. “We had political people there, influential people there. We had major players from the two largest foundations there. All had very positive feedback and liked what we had to say.”
Many California cities are now burdened with a stockpile of vacant properties because Gov. Jerry Brown dissolved about 400 redevelopment agencies in the state to redirect about $2 billion to fill state budget gaps.
“They have all this inventory, and they’d like to get it all back on the tax rolls,” Moritz said.
On top of that, the Desert Communities area has a problem similar to many other communities across the nation: veterans living in substandard housing or homeless.
“There appears to be some 1,600 veterans of World War II,Korea and Vietnam who live in our territory,” Moritz said. “And a substantial portion of those 1,600 live at or near poverty level. They live in substandard housing or they don’t have enough money from their retirement, disability payments and benefits. They don’t have enough money to keep their homes up, and a lot of them live in trailers. There are somewhere north of 200 homeless veterans, and three of the cities have inventory of abandoned houses.
“So, the cities are all over it,” he added. “They’re loving it.”
Moritz and Pieper have meetings scheduled for Thursday and next week to pull together local veterans-related groups to help them identify potential candidates for their work, while also working to see if there are any REO possibilities to incorporate as Save a House projects. And they are doing so with a sense of urgency as they hope to either announce projects or, better yet, have work to do on Veterans Day weekend.
“That’s the goal,” Moritz said. “It’s a pretty aggressive goal, but it’s a goal.”
Fuller Center Director of U.S. Field Operations Kirk Lyman-Barner sees the programs directed toward veterans housing as an opportunity to not only help a segment of the population who deserves to be paid back for their service but also to showcase The Fuller Center’s expertise in repairing homes and in giving vacant houses new life. He encourages covenant partners to work with U.S. Field Operations Communications Liaison Brenda Barton, who will coordinate the training in and submission of Federal Home Loan Bank applications.
“It takes some work to qualify an applicant, and our covenant partners need to develop a relationship with a local bank that is a member of the Federal Home Loan Bank, but the opportunity is at hand for every FullerCenter team to engage and assist our military veteran families,” Lyman-Barner said. “This will create tremendous goodwill in the covenant partners’ local communities.”
Fuller Center President David Snell said that the Desert Communities team appears well-equipped to become a leader on the issue of veterans housing.
“We have too few heroes these days, so we need to take good care of the ones we’ve got,” Snell said. “Our veterans are heroes, and it’s only right that we make sure that after their service they have a decent place to call home. I’m proud of our partners in the Desert Communities for reaching out to serve the special breed of patriots.”
New partner in Palm Springs area of California has Fuller family connections
When The Fuller Center for Housing adds a new covenant partner in the United States, few people are happier than Director of U.S. Field Operations Kirk Lyman-Barner, who usually signs the last page of the agreement with the final flourish of “Welcome to The Fuller Center family!”
With the addition of the newest covenant partner, Desert Communities’ Fuller Center for Housing in California, that welcome has a whole new meaning. One of its board members is Janet Spier, whose late husband Clarence Spier served on The Fuller Center for Housing’s Advisory Council until he died in his sleep on Sept. 18 of last year. On that sad day, Fuller Center President David Snell recalled Clarence Spier as “the definition of a gentleman.”
Janet and Clarence Spier work the sales table at the 2009 Millard Fuller Legacy Build in Lanett, Ala. Of course, that’s not Janet’s only family connection to The Fuller Center for Housing. She has one that goes much further back: Her sister, Linda Fuller Degelmann, is the Fuller Center’s co-founder.
“Janet and Clarence have been supporters of The Fuller Center from the beginning, and she’s always wanted to be able to do something,” Snell said. “She and Clarence both came to a number of builds, including Lanett and Shreveport, and she’s tried to stay close to the organization. And this is really exciting because now she’ll have her own covenant partner right there in her own backyard.”
“This time, my greeting of ‘Welcome to The Fuller Center family’ takes on a whole new meaning because Linda’s sister Janet Spier is on board … literally on the board!” Lyman-Barner said. “She wrote me a nice note after the application was approved.”
In the note, Spier’s words included: Thank you, Kirk, for your kind words of welcome and for working with us to bring The Fuller Center for Housing here to the Coachella Valley. It is a prayer that has been answered in God’s own time with the right folks coming forward to provide youthful and inspired leadership, experienced know-how and a networking capability that puts us well down the road. The ministry will be a blessing to us and to those we serve.
THE DESERT COMMUNITIES
The those we serve to which Spier refers are residents in the Morongo Basin and the Coachella Valley around Palm Springs in hot, arid Southern California. The experienced know-how is in the hands of Desert Communities’ FCH President Jeff Moritz and Vice President Cindy Pieper.
Spier and her late husband started Habitat for Humanity’s Coachella Valley affiliate but had longed in recent years to get it converted to a Fuller Center covenant partner. She says Moritz’s and Pieper’s departures from Habitat and desire to join The Fuller Center was the spark needed to start a covenant partner at last.
“I’m thrilled, and my husband would be, too,” Spier said. “If he were with me, he’d be gung-ho and ready to go ahead. I’m just so excited about this. It’s a prayer that has been answered at the right time to attract the right people to it with the right spirit.”
Moritz most recently served nine months as executive director of Habitat for Humanity’s Coachella Valley affiliate, during which time the group finished five homes. He did 20 during stints with Habitat affiliates in Plymouth and Cape Cod, Mass.
Pieper, meanwhile, is also a past director of the Coachella Valley Habitat affiliate, while her husband worked with Moritz as Coachella Valley Habitat’s ReStore and construction coordinator. After joining a Fuller Center Global Builders trip this year, she was eager to bring The Fuller Center’s work home.
“She’s a past Habitat president who’d been on the sidelines for a chunk of years, and I was trying to recruit her back onto the (Coachella Habitat) board because the board needed help. We got to know each other well. We talked about (joining The Fuller Center for Housing) briefly upon my exit from Habitat, and we both kind of sent emails to Kirk at the same time.”
While at Habitat’s Coachella affiliate, Moritz said he pushed for a “more sustainable” building model that included less pay-for-construction and a redesign to what he viewed as a more modular, inexpensive and greener home design. He wanted to use more labor from high-schoolers, college students and other volunteers. Moritz and Habitat then parted ways.
With Habitat’s affiliate having dozens on its waiting list when he left, Moritz knows there is still plenty of room for The Fuller Center and others to help people help themselves in an area more known for the ritzy Palm Springs image that attracts the rich and famous for desert getaways.
“There’s about 65 percent of the population that can manage on its own – middle class and upper middle class, retired and wealthy,” he said. “And when I say wealthy, I mean seriously wealthy. The other 35 percent are made up of mostly construction, agricultural and service industry employees who make it on $20,000 to $40,000 a year or are totally unemployed.”
Of the lower-earning 35 percent, Moritz said about 30 percent of those residents live in substandard housing.