Warren Mayor Jim Fouts and Bob Scott, supervisor of Warren’s Property Maintenance Division, view a house on Jewett Avenue, near Stephens Road and MacArthur Avenue, that will soon be a home for a U.S. military veteran.

Warren Mayor Jim Fouts and Bob Scott, supervisor of Warren’s Property Maintenance Division, view a house on Jewett Avenue, near Stephens Road and MacArthur Avenue, that will soon be a home for a U.S. military veteran.

Photo by Brian Louwers

Pilot program in Warren tackles veteran homelessness

By: Brian Louwers | C&G Newspapers | Published September 21, 2021


ROSEVILLE/WARREN — Welcome home. Those are two words every veteran wants to hear when they finish serving their country and return to civilian life.

For many, that transition is anything but welcoming.

Sandy Bower leads Vets Returning Home, a Roseville-based nonprofit dedicated to providing stability for veterans in distress. The group has partnered with the city of Warren and First State Bank on a program that refurbishes tax-reverted houses and makes them available and affordable for qualified veterans interested in becoming homeowners.

“It’s a pilot program. There are eight houses,” Bower said. “These are distressed properties. They’re selling these houses to veterans for $1.”

Bower said the vets have low income and that most of them are disabled. Some are single parents with children.

“First State Bank is going to approve them for a loan, even though they typically would not qualify,” Bower said. “They’re not making them go through that process.”

Tom Bommarito, director of Warren’s Department of Community, Economic and Downtown Development, said the homes were acquired from the county after a tax foreclosure.

The county makes the city whole by paying the back taxes at the time of foreclosure, but cities typically have the right of first refusal to keep the properties by giving those taxes back. When cities don’t, foreclosed properties are sold by the county, sometimes in bulk, usually to developers.

When that happens, Bommarito said, the best properties are often rehabbed and then sold off or rented out. Less desirable properties in the bulk lot are sometimes left to sit untouched for years.

Partnering with nonprofit organizations like Vets Returning Home goes beyond the positive impact of helping veterans and their families achieve stability through homeownership. The city can eliminate blighted properties, strengthen neighborhoods and put rehabbed homes back on the tax rolls.

“We’ve been looking for positive uses,” Bommarito said.

He said Warren sold one home previously to assist a veteran and that the city’s team was looking for ways to expand the program. Working with Bob Scott, supervisor of Warren’s Property Maintenance Division, Vets Returning Home and First State Bank, they came up with a plan to help eight vets become first-time homebuyers.

“The city sold  — donated, essentially — the homes to these vets for $1. The vets sign an agreement to say that they’ll stay there for at least five years,” Bommarito said. “If they move out early, the bank will retain ownership and assign it to another vet.”

Eligible veterans were chosen based on a list of criteria, including demonstrated personal responsibility and an interest in homeownership.

Amy Persyn, marketing director and first vice president of First State Bank, said the bank was approached because of its ties to the community.

“What we’ve done is we’ve kind of put together a unique financing opportunity for veterans,” Persyn said.

Necessary repairs to the distressed properties sold to veterans vary in scope and cost. However, the bank’s program allows the new occupants to pay for any needed repairs to the roof, windows, flooring or other modifications through a loan, which in turn helps them rebuild damaged credit.

First State Bank was asked to consider extending credit in the form of a one-time remodel loan, issued to each homeowning veteran with the promise that the loan would be paid back by the vets themselves. The loans come without interest or fees, and the participants are required to complete financial literacy courses as a condition of the loan agreement.

Persyn said all funds are paid out directly to contractors for improvements for six months. When the rehab loan term is done, the balance is transitioned to a Veterans Affairs or traditional mortgage held by the bank.

The vets must meet employment and repayment standards to participate in the program.

Vets Returning Home is also looking to develop local partnerships to help pay down some of the rehab loan balances, to further assist program participants, knowing that affordable payments lead to the establishment of good credit histories.

“The problem we have now is that material costs have skyrocketed,” Bower said. “The biggest thing we’re looking for is corporate sponsors that will sponsor these veterans.”

Keeping renovation costs manageable through sponsorships and donations will help keep loan balances down, creating greater equity for the veterans.

Vets Returning Home is also working to compile a registry for those interested in helping veterans with everyday household and property maintenance items once they move in.

“Most of them are homeless veterans who are starting with nothing,” Bower said.

Once the veterans are placed in the first eight rehabbed homes in the pilot program in Warren, Bower said the city pledged to potentially do 25 homes a year.

Officials said that number would be contingent upon the number of available properties in foreclosure.

“This could literally be game-changing in our veteran community in Macomb County,” Bower said.

Earlier this year, Warren Mayor Jim Fouts called the program “the first of its kind in the nation.”

For more information about Vets Returning Home, visit www.vetsreturninghome.org.