By Story and photos by Mikael Krummel

Ground was broken five years ago when a cluster of local civic leaders shared a common goal: help house returning veterans. Credit a city manager, the general manager of EWEB, a local Home Builders Association president, and the director of St. Vincent de Paul.

“We saw the need,” recalls Eugene City Manager Jon Ruiz, “from veterans coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq. In Oregon, we average 150-300 veterans a month, and as we started figuring out how we can help the reintegration of veterans, we said one of the best ways we can do that is through affordable, safe, and secure housing.”

First, the group organized as the Veterans Housing Project (VHP) and bought several dilapidated homes at auction. Then volunteers emerged with enough cash, donated materials, and skilled labor to put the houses back together again. Strategies solidified: buy or lease houses dirt-cheap; tap the resources and compassionate energy of the community; rebuild the properties. Lastly, offer them to vets for reduced rent until the vets comfortably transition back into the community.

“The idea was if these houses were built with essentially no mortgage, and they were collecting, say $500 a month rent, that rent would help fund the next house so the project becomes somewhat self-sustaining,” says Matt White of Neil Kelly, an early VHP contributor.

And indeed, the VHP has become increasingly viable — so much so that it has become a national model, Accomplished without use of public dollars. Major local donors like Home Depot, Northwest Community Credit Union, Seneca Saw Mill, and others have stepped up, donating tens of thousands of dollars per house. Many businesses have given thousands of dollars in construction, decorating, and landscaping resources, and thousands of hours of labor have been contributed by civic and church groups, student organizations, and individuals. The result is eight VHP homes now housing vets and their families across the metro area.

“It’s a very tangible, hands-on way,” says Jon Ruiz, “for community members to say ‘Thanks! And from all of us, welcome home!'”