Proposed plan calls for renovation of former dorm into supportive apartments for veterans

A vacant former college dormitory south of downtown Omaha would be renovated into 60 apartments for homeless or nearly homeless veterans under a plan presented Wednesday.

The Victory II Apartments would occupy a former Grace University building at 825 Dorcas St. That’s adjacent to Victory Apartments 1, which includes 90 apartments for veterans in a wing of the former St. Joseph Hospital.

They’re permanent supportive housing. The people who live there receive such services as addiction counselling and job-readiness training.

More such apartments are needed, said George Achola, vice president of Burlington Capital Real Estate. The first 90 Victory apartments are full. And there’s a waiting list of 140 people, Achola said.

Burlington is seeking $347,000 in tax-increment financing to help pay for the $8.2 million Victory Apartments II project. The Omaha City Planning Board voted 6-0 Wednesday to recommend that the City Council approve the tax-increment financing, or TIF.

The four-story building most recently was used as storage and offices by Grace University. It has been vacant since the college moved out. Grace shut its doors last May. Burlington, headed by Mike Yanney, plans to gut the building and create the new studio and one-bedroom apartments.

The people who move in will be coming from homeless shelters, transitional housing at Siena-Francis House and other locations, apartments they share with several other people and even from the street, Achola said.

They’ll have to be low-income military veterans to qualify. They cannot be registered sex offenders.

The housing is part of a hybrid program of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and local housing authorities.

The housing authorities provide rent subsidies, which ultimately comes from the federal government. Burlington is working with the Douglas County Housing Authority on the first Victory Apartment. It will work with the Omaha Housing Authority on Victory Apartments II.

The VA Community Resource & Referral Center provides services, including medical care, psychological counseling and job training — right next door in the renovated former hospital.

Burlington got involved after another developer’s plan to place such apartments in the Field Club neighborhood, near the Omaha VA Medical Center, failed due to neighborhood opposition, Achola said.

“Mike Yanney’s a veteran,” Achola said “He’s always been interested in veterans’ issues. He said that’s an embarrassment, we’re going to make sure these veterans get help and we became involved.”

This will be Burlington’s third such veterans housing project. The firm also has 70 apartments in Lincoln.

Many of the people who live in the apartments are Vietnam-era veterans, in their late 60s and early 70s, Achola said. “But we’re starting to see more recent, Iraq and Afghanistan-era vets, cycle through,” he said.

The program grew from an initiative launched during the Obama era to end veteran homelessness.

Achola said there have been a few problems with the initial Victory Apartments, as might be expected with people coming from homelessness, but that managers work to maintain good relations with neighbors.

No one spoke in opposition to the project Wednesday.

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