WEST L.A. — New legislation proposed by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Santa Monica) would make things easier for nonprofits that want to create housing for homeless veterans.

The bill would allow nonprofits and developers to use an enhanced-use lease to upgrade two buildings on the West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs Medical Campus.

Feinstein announced her legislation in the Senate on Tuesday and Waxman followed suit in the House of Representatives on the Wednesday.

“I want to do all I can to help the West L.A. VA move as quickly as possible to renovate buildings 205 and 208, which will provide desperately needed housing and services to chronically homeless veterans,” Waxman told the Daily Press. “We have a crisis of veteran homelessness in Los Angeles, and the legislation is designed to give the VA flexibility to enter into public-private partnerships to develop the buildings.”

The bill would give nonprofits longer leases making it easier for them to find financing. In 2009, Common Ground, a New York City-based nonprofit, attempted to work out a deal to provide services in building 209 but they couldn’t get financed.

“I think it’s an important step forward,” said John Maceri, executive director of OPCC, a Santa Monica-based homeless services provider. “This is a long time coming.”

About 10 to 13 percent of the homeless population that Maceri comes in contact with are vets but they tend to make up a higher amount of the chronically homeless, he said.

Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing programs are doing a lot to help the problem, he said.

“It’s getting better,” Maceri said. “I think what we’ve seen in Los Angeles and across the country is that there have been more resources extended to the homeless veterans. All of those targeted resources seem to be having a positive impact.”

The VA did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

Former Santa Monica Mayor Bobby Shriver, who recently announced his candidacy for L.A. County supervisor with a promise to fight homelessness among veterans, said he was “thrilled” with the legislation.

“We waited a long time for this,” said Shriver, who during his days on the City Council pressed for more action from the federal government on homelessness, particularly among vets. “It’s definitely the right direction but we have to see it to completion and I hope the process can be expedited.”

The concentration of homeless veterans in Los Angeles County is the largest in the country, according to Feinstein. Shriver said that the bills are a positive step but that more needs to be done.

“Although it’s a great thing, there’s only two buildings there,” he said. “For the moment it’s a victory.”

Bob Rosebrock, an advocate for veterans who holds weekly protests outside the West L.A. VA, thinks the bill is heading in the wrong direction. He doesn’t want dollars being spent on “willy-nilly nonprofits” that are backed by corporations.

He’d like to see all the buildings torn down and rebuilt with money from  “taxpayers who appreciate the sacrifices” the veterans made.

In 2007, Feinstein sponsored a bill that did the opposite of what’s done by this bill. It prevented the VA from selling any portions of the VA property for private use.

Last year, a federal judge ruled against the VA for renting portions of the campus to businesses and organizations like UCLA and Twentieth Century Fox. This was the result of a lawsuit filed in 2011 by the ACLU Foundation of Southern California on behalf of veterans who were sleeping outside the gates of the campus.

“More than 6,000 veterans are homeless in Los Angeles,” Feinstein said in a statement about her legislation. “This is a disgrace and should be a national shame. We can’t afford to wait any longer.”

 

dave@smdp.com

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