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Feinstein bill pushes housing for homeless vets at West L.A. VA campus

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced a bill Tuesday to smooth the way for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to partner with private agencies to develop housing for homeless veterans on its West Los Angeles campus.

The legislation would authorize the department to lease two dilapidated buildings on the long-neglected 387-acre site to a private, nonprofit group to renovate as long-term therapeutic housing for disabled veterans, Feinstein said in a statement.

Advocates have accused the veterans agency of dragging its feet on housing Los Angeles County's nearly 7,000 homeless veterans, the largest concentration in the nation.

The bill would authorize using a so-called enhanced-use lease to renovate the property. The absence of such a lease killed a 2009 proposal for Common Ground, a nonprofit homeless services agency in New York City, to create housing on the campus.

"That's what has kept this at a standstill," said Rosanne Haggerty, founder of Common Ground. "No bank or tax credit investor was prepared to lend to or invest in a project without security."

The government is appealing an August court ruling striking down a separate shared-use lease arrangement the department has used for decades to rent campus property for commercial uses, including UCLA's baseball stadium, a laundry for Marriott Hotels and a 20-acre sports complex for an exclusive private school.

Attorney David Sapp of the ACLU of Southern California said Feinstein's bill is a step forward but added that the veterans agency's commitment to veteran housing has fallen short of the need.

"We're looking at thousands of disabled homeless, not just a couple hundred," Sapp said.

The Feinstein bill would not allow Veterans Affairs to issue more commercial leases. Bobby Shriver, a candidate for Los Angeles County supervisor and a longtime champion of veterans housing on the property, said he was "thrilled" by Feinstein's initiative.

"This legislation is going to bring some of the most innovative treatment facilities onto the campus," said Shriver, a former mayor of Santa Monica. "These people are living in dumpsters now."

The Veterans Affairs department a year ago broke ground on renovation of a single building on the campus that will house 65 veterans. The $17.6-million project was slated to finish this spring. Transitional housing and emergency shelters are also housed on the sprawling property.

Advocates argue that veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and other disabling conditions need permanent homes with intensive medical and mental health services to keep them under a roof.


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