Butler VA building could be converted for housing of vets

Building 3 on the grounds of the Butler VA in Butler Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013.
Building 3 on the grounds of the Butler VA in Butler Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013.
Photo by Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
| Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013, 9:02 p.m.

The Housing and Redevelopment Authority of the County of Butler will ask the state for a grant to help pay for conversion of an empty building at VA Butler Healthcare into a house for aging veterans who are homeless.

Until last year, the building had been used to house homeless veterans with substance abuse problems, said Kenneth Kalaber, a VA health systems specialist. That program moved into another building, he said.

“Our plans were to demolish the building,” he said.

The structure was known as Building 3 on the VA Butler campus and built in the 1930s. Kalaber said officials are hoping it could be converted into 18 efficiency apartments.

“Our campus is sort of becoming residential. This building is not viable for modern-day heath care. But it could be renovated and used for residential use,” he said.

The VA and the housing authority conducted a public hearing on the proposal Nov. 26. There is no firm timeline for the project, and the housing authority does not have financing.

The project is expected to cost about $2.5 million and the authority is preparing a grant request to submit to the state, said Perry O'Malley, the authority's director.

“The earliest this project could be done is in March or April of 2014,” O'Malley said.

Because the project is on federal property, it does not need approval from Butler Township officials, Kalaber said.

The project is allowed under the enhanced-use lease program, a federal program for funding construction or renovations on federal property. The rules stipulate that when the VA stops using a building, it must be converted into housing for homeless veterans, Kalaber said.

The VA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development have many programs to reduce the number of homeless veterans, said Randy Brown, a spokesman for the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C.

“Housing is the big thing. There's a need for housing and housing that is good,” Brown said.

In 2010, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki set a goal of eradicating homelessness among veterans by 2015. HUD reports the number of homeless veterans nationwide dropped to 57,849 in January, down by about 5,000 people from a count taken in 2012 and almost 25 percent lower than a count of 76,329 in 2010.

“That's good improvement. But there's a lot more to do,” Brown said.

Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or at rwills@tribweb.com.

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