Governor Deval Patrick today signed into law legislation that will transfer a parcel of state owned land to the United Veterans of America, also known as "Soldier On," in Agawam. The law, "An Act Authorizing the Commissioner of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance to Convey Certain Land in the Town of Agawam," will lead to increased services and the construction of limited equity cooperative housing for homeless veterans.
"Our military service men and women deserve the very best support upon their return," said Governor Patrick. "I want to thank our partners in the Legislature, as well as Soldier On, for their support of this legislation that will build upon the existing services for veterans and offer benefits they have rightfully earned."
"As Massachusetts continues to lead the nation in services for veterans, this legislation provides a unique opportunity to transfer state land to support housing for our veteran community," said Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray, chair of the Governor's Advisory Council on Veterans Services. "We appreciate the opportunity to partner with the Legislature and Soldier On to enhance housing and critical services for our military service men and women as they transition home."
"Today marks a great win for Massachusetts Veterans," said Secretary of Veterans' Services Tom Kelley. "Soldier On has a proud history of providing services to veterans in need, and the passing of this bill means even more veterans will benefit. I applaud their efforts and the Patrick-Murray Administration for seeing to it that this works continues. Together, we will ensure that Massachusetts continues to lead the nation in veterans' services."
The property, formerly the State Police Training Academy, is currently underutilized. By transferring this state owned land, Soldier On has agreed to purchase 6.9 acres of the total 50-acre property for $1 with plans to break ground on a $12 million housing construction project in the fall or spring. The first phase of this project will create approximately 40 525-square foot studio apartments with the potential to create up to 100 housing units for veterans. Additionally, once redeveloped, veterans will have the opportunity to buy shares in a cooperative, paying real estate taxes to the town, adding a boost to the local property tax base. Soldier On will finance this project through a mix of state and federal grants, as well as loans dedicated to affordable housing.
"We are very grateful to Governor Patrick and Lieutenant Governor Murray, as well as Senator Buoniconti and Representative Sandlin for their leadership to end veteran homelessness," said John F. Downing, President and CEO of Soldier On. "Today, Massachusetts is the first state in the nation to donate a building and land for homeless veterans, which will allow Soldier On to build permanent housing that they will own and manage. This project will become a national model on how we end veteran homelessness."
"I am very pleased and truly honored that the Governor is signing the legislation allowing Agawam to be the host community for the much needed Soldier On program. It's a great opportunity for veterans who are in need of services," said Mayor Richard A. Cohen.
"This legislation presents a terrific opportunity to reuse an abandoned building and surplus state land to create much-needed housing opportunities for our returning veterans. The addition of 125 housing units will add to the town's property tax base, provide construction jobs in the near future and help stimulate our local economy. Today's ceremony is the culmination of more than 18 months of legislative effort. I'm thrilled to be here today," said Representative Rosemary Sandlin.
Soldier On currently serves homeless veterans of U.S. military service at shelters in Leeds and Pittsfield, with a mission to end homelessness among veterans by providing permanent, sustainable, safe, affordable housing with support services that veterans will own and operate. On average, Soldier On supports 500 homeless veterans in 170 emergency, transitional and permanent supported housing units. As part of their mission, Soldier On is committed to providing an environment of integrity, dignity and hope that will help veterans regain physical and mental stability, housing and employment, economic stability and become contributing members of their community.
The Patrick-Murray Administration has made Massachusetts a national leader in veterans' services. The Commonwealth is the only state in the nation to offer local financial assistance - for food, clothing, shelter, housing and medical care - to its veterans and dependants in need. Massachusetts also provides workforce training assistance and one of the highest "Welcome Home" bonuses in the nation to veterans who return from overseas deployments and active duty military service. In addition, the state issues additional bonuses for multiple deployments - an improvement Governor Patrick signed into law on Veterans' Day 2009.
The work of the Governor's Advisory Council on Veterans' Services and its partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Veterans' Services, other state agencies and veterans' organizations has led to many services and benefits for veterans. For more information about the Department of Veterans' Services, including affordable, no-down payment mortgage financing for veterans run by MassHousing, Chapter 115 Benefits, and a 24-hour suicide prevention and benefit referral hotline run by the Department of Veterans' Services, visit www.mass.gov/veterans.