‘They have earned these houses’: How one nonprofit is helping veterans become homeowners

Zulekha Nathoo USA TODAY

PALMDALE, Calif. — Owning a home feels out of reach for many Americans. For veterans, it can be even more challenging. After joining the Air Force at the age of 18, Darcel Baillie had no idea the uphill battle she’d face when returning home. 

“Even when they know you deserve or need some services, you have to jump through hoops,” says Baillie, 39.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor website, women are at higher risk for housing instability. It’s estimated that more than one million American veterans are living in poverty.

“They’re being deployed for long periods of their lives,” says Donna Deutchman, CEO of the California-based nonprofit Homes 4 Families. “Sometimes they lose the whole decade of their 20s. Things that we learn in our 20s when we’re able to make mistakes and it doesn’t matter much, they come home without those skills and without the opportunity to make a mistake anymore.” 

Homes 4 Families, which has built dozens of houses in Palmdale, Santa Clarita and Pacoima, Calif., offers former service members low-cost mortgages based on their income. 

Deutchman says new homes in Palmdale, for example, are being appraised at around $340,000 but are being sold to veterans for much lower, at $250,000. The organization keeps costs down by eliminating contractor and developer fees and working with volunteers to provide the finishing touches on each home. 

A $100,000 grant from the Gannett Foundation’s A Community Thrives initiative will help support upcoming builds.

The houses are also equipped with special considerations, such as open floor plans and drawers which open and close quietly so that loud noises and blind corners don’t exacerbate symptoms of PTSD.  

“They have earned these houses,” says Deutchman.”Their family deserves every penny saved in acquiring these homes.” Get the Everyone’s Talking newsletter in your inbox.

Baillie, a single mother of three, says her new home is still full of boxes which need unpacking, but the feeling of being a first-time homeowner is “unreal.” 

“I just wanted to make my kids proud,” she said. 

Gannet Foundation’s A Community Thrives initiative provides grants up to $100,000 for community programs making a difference in the lives of Americans. 

Other recipients this year include:  

  • Waggies by Maggie & Friends, a Delaware-based dog biscuit business which employs bakers with intellectual disabilities;
  • Interfaith Neighbors, a New Jersey-based organization dedicated to improving housing and nutrition for the most vulnerable;
  • Ruling our Experiences, Inc, an Ohio-based leader in programming research and educational programs focused on girls;
  • South Carolina Center for Fathers and Families, a nonprofit focused on strengthening relationships and educating young men on the impact of fatherhood