SALT LAKE CITY — The Housing Authority of Salt Lake City issued a demand letter to the local Veteran Affairs office Monday, stating that the department needed to change policies that left beds at a property built for homeless veterans vacant for years.
The housing authority said in their letter that the VA should replace their staff with the non-profit First Step House, an organization based in Salt Lake City that specializes in addiction recovery.
In the letter, the housing authority said the high vacancy at Valor House caused extreme cuts in funding for the facility:
“The mix of regulatory barriers to tenancy put in place by the local VA caused this property to average over 30% vacancy for the past several years—a total of approximately 11,000 empty bed nights at a time when many veterans are struggling on the street or in substandard living conditions. This high vacancy rate led to extreme cuts in HASLC’s federal grant funding for the facility, causing a deficit of over $100,000 per year and almost $1 million to date. Until now, this loss has been covered by HASLC using funds taken from other housing programs in order to prevent the veterans who did manage to get placed at Valor House from becoming homeless again.”
The housing authority said local VA staff controlled all tenant screenings and selection decisions, and routinely screened out applicants.
“For the applicants that did get housed, the local VA staff were rewarded with bonuses in pay for each veteran quickly relocated out from the property to other types of housing, a policy that incentivized rejection of veteran applicants stigmatized from past drug or alcohol addiction, and other conditions that could make rapid placement in other housing more difficult,” the letter said.
The housing authority said that because of the changes it was making in the guiding documents for Valor House, it is anticipated that the property will be filled close to capacity by February 15, 2019.
The VA Salt Lake City Health Care System sent the following statement to Fox 13:
“VA Salt Lake City Health Care System is committed to housing homeless Veterans seeking personal growth and treatment.
“We are currently working very closely with the Housing Authority on a resolution while always keeping our Veterans’ best interest in mind. VA Salt Lake City never turns away or denies services to homeless Veterans. However, we do make certain that Veterans are placed in the appropriate housing situation for their recovery needs.
“Federal employees do not receive bonuses for relocating Veterans to non-supportive housing. Futhermore, they have never received bonuses for placement of Veterans, nor is there any encouragement to relocate Veterans.
“VASLCHCS staff will continue to be actively involved with Valor House and the care provided for Veterans as we work through this complex issue.”