CA may put veteran mortgage money toward other vet services


Of all the services available, the last thing a homeless veteran in California, like Army Sgt. Steve Tafoya, needs is a mortgage.

"No, not to buy a house. Just to have a place to live and maybe some counseling," he said.

The state, though, has more than $1 billion of voter-approved bond money untapped for the sole purpose of helping veterans buy a house, all while services for veterans are strapped for funding.

Last year, just 83 loans were approved. The housing crisis and high-interest rates attached to the bonds made the program unattractive.

Former Marine colonel and now Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, R-Oceanside, says veterans of today have different needs -- just look at the dramatic rise in homelessness among veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Because of post-traumatic stress disorder, they have an inability to get a job to be able to pay for housing," he said.

Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, is proposing to ask voters to take $600 million of the home loan program and put it toward veteran services and apartments.

"It is appalling that we have veterans who've come home after serving our country finding themselves on the street," he said.

The Department of Veteran Affairs says the housing market is picking up, and with more competitive interest rates now, it expects a surge in loan applications. So this may not be the time to shift the money.

The agency points out, if the state moves the funds, taxpayers will have to pick up the tab for all the interest on the bonds, up to $40 million a year. When it's used for mortgages, homeowners pay the interest.

"We're helping veterans at no cost to the citizens of California. This program is completely self-sustaining," said Theresa Gunn with the California Department of Veteran Affairs. "Why wouldn't we want to keep these resources where they're needed?"

If the Perez measure is approved, California voters will decide in November 2014 if some of the home loan money should be redirected to veteran services.

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