In late 2002, one of our members, on a visit to Togus, realized how much developable land there was on its campus. Aside from the hospital itself and the administrative buildings, not including the cemeteries and wetlands, there appeared to be close to 100 acres dispersed in various locations on the Togus periphery.
He conferred with D.V.A. officials there and looked at aerial photographs, an idea struck! What a wonderful location for a housing development planned exclusively for veterans! He then discussed the idea with fellow veterans, some of whom were already builders of affordable housing. They were enthusiastic about the notion of a veterans housing community. Road are in place. Togus has its own security department, a fire fighting force, swimming pool, tennis courts, gym, miniature gold, trails and other recreational facilities even a cafeteria, mini-store and auditorium. All the veteran's medical and therapeutic services close-at-hand. Furthermore it was on Federal land. If some of the land could be leased there would be no local taxes, local codes often superfluous, would not impede development. Perhaps it could be developed so that even retired, low income veterans could afford it.
In 2003 he took his idea to the Maine Veterans Coordinating Committee, a group representing most of the State's veterans service organizations. Several members of the MVCC helped to organize the VHCME and MVCC provided some seed money. In turn VHCME incorporated in May 2003 as a non-profit organization and later obtained tax exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service.
In the meanwhile, VHCME set itself some goals, developed by-laws, recruited more directors and waded into what, for many of them, was unexplored territory. The directors explored many of the various programs that promised financial assistance and began discussing prospects with Department of Veterans Affairs executives. As a result, the Togus idea seemed to be at best, tenuous and long term if at all possible.
Without letting go of the Togus possibility, however, VHCME decided to pursue other locations. One director, exploring the State's interest, found a "match". The State had a building in Bangor which is no longer needed, which was relatively young and in good condition, but which would be expensive for the State to heat and maintain in its unused status. Thus it was considered for demolition, unless someone else could put it to good use. With tremendous assistance from the Governor and his staff, the Maine State Housing Authority and the Commissioner of Administrative and Financial Services, we were able to develop the idea further.
Ames A/E, a respected architectural engineering consultant in Bangor, put together some renderings for us, pro-bono, which we could use to illustrate and "sell" the project, Our directors interviewed Bangor City officials and other organizations in the area to identify sources of potential local contributions to the project, It's like putting together a jig-saw puzzle!
At the same time, the Governor's staff proposed legislation which would allow the State to lease or sell Hedin Hall for the purpose of revamping it for veterans housing. The bill submitted to the legislative as a "Governor's Bill" had the support of both parties. To our delight and amazement, it passed the State and local Government Affairs Committee unanimously after having been introduced and going through "workshop" on the same day, an unusual occurrence.
The bill was signed by Governor Baldacci at Hedin Hall on May 8, 2006. To it had been appended a proposal to study the Stevens School site in Hal lowell for potential reuse as veterans housing. The Stevens School site is large enough to accommodate several hundred housing units. VHCME will have two representatives to study commission which is to be established under this addition to the law. The commission will report back to the Legislative in two years.
Up until now and probably until Hedin Hall is fully funded, VHCME has operated almost solely by the work of its volunteer directors. We have mentioned the pro-bono contribution of AMES A/E. We should also stress that this website has been setup, gratis, by MaineWebDesign.net and that Beth McPherson of the Genesis Fund, Inc. in Damariscotta, provided invaluable assistance to us in obtaining our 501(c)(3) tax exempt status. We would like to thank the staff and students of the University of Southern New Hampshire campus in Brunswick for constructing, as a public service, an initial rough-cut market analysis.
In April 2006, we contracted with Tom MacDonald of Bath as our consultant regarding tax credit financing which we expect to be a major source of funding.
©2006 Veterans Housing Coalition of Maine
site design & hosting by Maine Web Design