FREEDOM SQUARE: Army veteran and family move into new veterans housing

Army veteran and family move into their new townhouse in White City
Justin Smith, right, sits with Daniel Gibbs, left, and Nevaeh Smith in their new Freedom Square home.Julia Moore

After serving in petroleum supply in the Army during the Iraq War, Justin Smith, 31, couldn't get his life back on track. He and his girlfriend, Tina, arrived in Medford last December — after leaving her two kids with grandparents — and couch-surfed and lived out of a tent.

On Aug. 1, that all changed.

After getting his medical, dental and rehab needs handled, Smith, his partner and their kids, Daniel, 8, and Nevaeh, 2, reunited in a brand-new, two-bedroom, affordable-housing townhouse in Freedom Square in White City.

"They (Veterans Affairs) did miracles for me," he said. "I can't imagine where I'd be without them. I love the home. It's even got a washer and dryer."

The handsome complex, spearheaded by the Housing Authority of Jackson County and SORCC (the Veterans Affairs' Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics), adds 38 units of affordable housing, half for previously homeless vets and the rest for low-income workers, said Scott Foster, executive director of the Housing Authority, at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday.

A sister complex, Liberty Place in Central Point, has 16 units and opened at the same time.

The units rent for $460 for one bedroom, $540 for two and $610 for three bedrooms. Veterans pay 30 percent of their income for rent, and the federal Housing and Urban Development Department will pay the rest with vouchers, said Foster, making it easier for vets to get back into society and develop careers.

"My dream," said Smith, "is to start my own business, a mechanic's shop."

Low-income workforce tenants need to earn up to 60 percent of the county's median income, or $33,360 for a family of four.

Foster saids he has a waiting list of 5,000 families for such housing.

"These 50 homes are just a drop in the bucket, but we keep bringing more buckets ... and try to promote additional housing on a regular basis. We've done a project a year for the last five or six years."

The housing developments were financed by $7.79 million in Low Income Housing Tax Credit equity and $6.4 million in construction financing from KeyBank, the agency said in a news release.

Freedom Square offers 18 one-bedroom apartments and two two-bedroom units to veterans, while Liberty Place is entirely for working families. The veterans at Freedom Square are either homeless or getting outpatient services from SORCC, or they are living at the center's transitional housing and are ready to move to independent living, the statement said.

This is the sixth time KeyBank has done such a project with Jackson County Housing Authority, said KeyBank relationship manager Barbara B. Smith. She lauded the units' energy-efficiency, which include Earth Advantage certified construction, high-efficiency windows, doors, heating and cooling, heat pumps, low-VOC paint and Energy Star appliances. The builder was Adroit Construction of Ashland.

The developments have vinyl, plank flooring, walk-in closets, a community building with a computer lab and full kitchen, playground, community garden and full-time, on-site manager.

"What these developments mean is that we're now able to provide permanent, long-term housing that meets veterans' needs, said case manager Amy Twiest of SORCC.

"They have access to the VA only a mile away. We offer assessment, counseling, crisis intervention and help them meet their goals and become productive members of our community."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.


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