Part of Peabody Properties, a property management and development company based in Braintree, Mass., Peabody Veterans Supportive Housing developed Valley Brook Village (VBV) as permanent supportive housing for homeless veterans on the campus of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Lyons, N.J.
In doing so, the firm accomplished two win-wins: The first was constructing the first such housing in the country on a VA medical campus under a program Congress enacted to utilize federal surplus land to house homeless veterans. The second victory came in setting up a model to help resolve a serious and growing national problem.
Although numbers are impossible to peg due to the population's transient nature, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates that almost 50,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. In New Jersey, a HUD "point-in-time" count of homeless veterans this past January was 738, which reflects an 11% increase from 2014.
Design-wise, the goals were to give VBV a noninstitutional look and have occupants feel pride in being part of a community rather than isolated, which many do. The architect's solution was to mimic a village with three sage green and rust-colored buildings on a 16-acre landscaped campus.
The largest building houses 50 one- and two-bedroom, fully furnished apartments, along with important services such as crisis intervention, job training, work-readiness programs, physical health care, and community building activities. The two smaller buildings house the remaining 12 units.
All the apartments have good natural daylight and views, two critical components to help veterans recovering from trauma and anxiety. The units also integrate universal design features to support health care, such as paint colors to differentiate between doors and walls for those with impaired sight. Sustainability, too, was important to the developer, which achieved LEED Gold status for the main building and LEED Silver for the smaller ones.
VBV also shows how perseverance can push a concept forward. The town was supportive from the get-go, but getting resources allocated to the development presented a challenge, particularly the rental subsidies, says Betsy Collins, senior project manager.
With the project now completed, the municipality and surrounding community have embraced VBV with fundraising drives and goods and services such as a food pantry to benefit resident veterans.