Editor’s Note: This feature originally appeared in the August issue of MReport.
Safety. Security. Freedom. These are the principles upon which our nation was founded and are the ideals that our armed forces continue to defend to this day. But when our service members come home, are they being guaranteed the same dedication and determination for their successful transitions back into civilian life from those they served to protect? One group of industry leaders has set its sights on delivering this promise to those who promised it all.
The Veterans Financial Services Advisory Council (VFSAC) began with the mission to address the ongoing needs of veterans and their families in search of support related to housing and critical services. With the influence of prominent leaders from the housing, banking, finance, and mortgage-related companies, the VFSAC can provide support for established programs which support the function and stability of military families reacclimating to civilian life.
Ed Delgado, President, and CEO of The Five Star Institute, founded the VFSAC after he had the opportunity to present a mortgage-free home to a military Gold Star family at a home donation event in 2012.
“I met the widow of a fallen serviceman who said she would say my name aloud in her evening prayers for the rest of her life, thanking me for the gift of homeownership,” Delgado said. “I was struck by the stark contrast of her appreciation after suffering the ultimate loss of a loved one in defense of our nation’s freedom, versus the simple act of giving. I’ll never forget that feeling. It inspired me to do more to help military families receive recognition and support through action.”
Examining the Front Line
According to the 2017 Annual Homeless Assessment Report, the Point-in-Time count, which measures the amount of sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons on a single night in January, recorded 40,056 veterans experiencing homelessness in the United States—just over 9 percent of all homeless adults. Of these recorded, 38 percent, or 15,366 veterans, were found in “places not suited for human habitation.”
“We as a nation should help our military families in their time of need because of all that they have done for us in our nation’s time of need,” retired Brigadier Gen. John I. Pray, Jr., President, and CEO of Operation Homefront and VFSAC board member, said. “Part of that is understanding that transitions are hard and transition back to the civilian community is a key component of their future success. We all share the goal of helping our military families successfully reintegrate into their communities. Part of that transition process is making sure that they have a secure and stable home environment upon which they can build a brighter future. VFSAC is made up of mortgage leaders who have come together to try to tackle this challenging problem from the top down.”
The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans as identified a complex set of factors influencing homelessness for vets, including an extreme shortage of affordable housing, livable income, and access to health care. In addition, many displaced and at-risk veterans live with the debilitating effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse, which are compounded by a lack of family and support networks. According to market research by Redfin, out of the nearly 600,000 homes currently listed for sale in the 45 most populous metropolitan areas, only 8.9 percent are affordable to a veteran earning the median veteran income. This number is down from 2012, at 27.4 percent. Home prices have grown by 55.3 percent in these metros, which has substantially outpaced the 1.6 percent increase in veterans’ median incomes from 2012 to 2016.
“We understand that there are nearly 1.4 million veterans at risk of being homeless due to lack of support and substandard housing,” Ed Buckley, President of Aspen Grove Solutions and VFSAC board member, said. “When you are considering housing for vets, particularly in the programs that we’re trying to put together for providing homes, there are criteria that you would look for to house a veteran, such as homes that are in proximity to job opportunities, in a family situation to schools. You’ll be looking for homes that are in a low crime area, and you’d want the standard of the property itself to be in livable conditions, suitable for a family in modern times as you might call it—not ’20s, ’40s conditions.”
A Strategic Venture
The VFSAC has four goals, according to Buckley: house a minimum of 20 veterans and their families per year, provide funding for 36,000 backpacks for veterans’ school-aged children each year, fundraise at least $5,000 a month in support of critical short-term needs of veterans, and establish a hire-a
To achieve the first goal, the VFSAC works to secure the donation of suitable homes that meet the agreed-upon criteria for a home to be given to a vet. Available homes outside of that criteria could be sold off and the cash raised could be used to either renovate and rehabilitate homes or to buy suitable homes. For the backpack program, a team has been created to support the continuation of the program’s efforts, which has supplied over 300,000 backpacks since its inception.
“In relation to the $5,000 per month, it is—with great enthusiasm—that I can report that target is being met and has been met at this time,” Buckley said. “We are on track to maintain the $5,000 per month critical short-term funding needs, and the work on the hire-a-vet program is continuing. So, each of these goals are being established as we progress.”
Three subcommittees of the VFSAC pursue these goals. The first supports Operation Homefront’s ‘Homes on the Homefront’ program, which provides mortgage-free homes to honorably discharged veterans, and is reaching its 600th home awarded—about 56 to 60 million dollars in deeded equity. The second is support for the Critical Financial Assistance Program,
which helps many military families through the “bumpy space,” or a point in which these families experience a difficult time in meeting bill payments. This program assists in rent, mortgage, and utility payments—as well as home-repair costs, groceries, and car repairs—allowing these families to regain financial stability so that they can grow within their communities. The third subcommittee for the VFSAC is the Back to School Brigade. This program provides backpacks filled with supplies for children of these military families, a program which provided 42,000 backpacks to the school-aged children of veterans’ and active duty servicemembers in 2017 alone.
“Through the power of the mortgage industry and investor community, the VFSAC assists in meeting the housing needs of transitioning military families,” Alan Jaffa, CEO of Safeguard and VFSAC board member, said. “Home donation is a key component of the organization, which aids Operation Homefront, a nationally recognized and trusted nonprofit organization that donates 92 percent of every dollar expended to veterans’ programs. Through its diverse membership, VFSAC has the unique opportunity to bring together those who can source homes and those who can renovate homes to donate to qualifying veterans or veteran families through the Homefront program.”
Alliance Toward a Common Goal
The unique combination of industry professionals who have come together in this endeavor drive the success of the VFSAC’s mission and purpose. With a unifying goal that reaches far beyond industry competition and market operations, this group of leaders has been a driving force for change and progress within the organization and the spirit of the industry.
“Getting the companies and their leaders on this board and the kind of folks we need who have a commitment and a passion that will reach out and bring others on have helped us grow the amount of money we can receive in donations and homes to give away,” Bob Caruso, CEO of ServiceMac and VFSAC board member, said. “That’s what we need. Those kinds of folks, to me, that’s the biggest accomplishment—getting those kinds of strong leaders on board. That kind of group will help drive this thing to a higher level of success.”
When selecting the 14-member board for this council—spanning across many diverse and oftentimes competing companies—Delgado says he looked for individuals who were sincere in their endeavors to make a difference in the lives of veterans and their families through their actions and caliber of leadership.
“My knowledge in real estate has been instrumental in enabling me to support the leadership of VFSAC,” Jason Allnutt, General Manager at Auction.com, said. “However, working alongside many of my friends and clients in the industry enables us to all bring innovative ideas and thinking to the table to find the best solutions for the veteran community. Being surrounded by so many wonderful and insightful thinkers working toward a great cause is a humbling experience, and I’m just happy to be a part of it.”
With all the opportunities to involve themselves with the individuals and organizations pushing this movement forward, it’s no wonder that prestigious industry leaders such as Nickalene BadalamentiKalas, President of Five Brothers Asset Management, are honored to have the opportunity to be part of such an impactful and passion-driven organization.
“We see a commitment to our veterans as a duty and an honor,” Badalamenti-Kalas said. “These are the men and women who have sacrificed life and limb to protect our way of life and the liberties we hold dear. This is a group of accomplished individuals with a private understanding of the sacrifice that is made by our veterans. I was struck by the humility and sincerity of this group and the absolute resolve at making a difference.”
The Power of Community
While this organization has many great accomplishments and impacted the lives of many veterans in our nation, its members know there is still much to be done for these families. Jonathan Miko, President of Alacrity Services and incoming VFSAC Vice-Chairman, knows that this is a cause worth continuing, and a fight worth soldiering on for.
“As Americans, we are very fortunate to enjoy the many freedoms and opportunities that are unique to us, both universally and historically,” Miko said. “We’re able to enjoy these privileges because there are brave men and women among us who are willing to make the ultimate sacrifices to serve and protect our country. When their service has ended, and they are ready to move on to the next chapter in their lives, they are owed the opportunity to enjoy the privileges they worked so hard to defend and protect. Owning a home and providing children with a good education are two predominant pillars of the American Dream. VSFSAC offers the opportunity and support to help our veterans achieve both.”
For industry professionals looking to get involved with the VFSAC, Delgado stresses the importance not only of actionable participation but the desire to truly make a difference in the lives of veterans and their families through the many programs the council supports.
“You don’t have to have a seat on the VFSAC board to support the mission of the organization—we’re always looking for people that want to get involved and assist in planning, corporate fundraising, or just sharing ideas or experiences,” Delgado said. “You can visit our website to learn more about our key initiatives such as critical needs and assistance, backpacks for kids, and the home-donation program, or just email me at ed.delgado@ vfsac.org. VFSAC was created to demonstrate care through action. It exists solely to change the lives of veterans and veteran families, for the better.”