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Santa Rosa apartment owner won't turn his back on veterans

  • Property owner Joe Gonsalves poses for a photo in front of cottages he rents specifically to veterans, in Santa Rosa, Calif., on August 23, 2013. (Alvin Jornada / For The Press Democrat)

Going by the book, homeless military veterans may seem like lousy prospective tenants, a Santa Rosa apartment owner said.

If they've had ups and downs in life, their credit score may fall below the standards property managers and landlords typically set, said Joe Gonsalves, who owns a dozen rental units.

But he's rented seven of his eight apartments on E Street to veterans holding government rent vouchers, and Gonsalves said he's had no problems with them.

"They are guys who just want to come back and have some peace and quiet," Gonsalves said. Some older vets "have been through hell and back" that causes them problems, he said, acknowledging the toll of post-traumatic stress disorder.

A friend of his, a 66-year-old former Navy SEAL who served in Vietnam, suffers from PTSD. "You can see how these memories are haunting him," he said.

Gonsalves, who is not a veteran, will receive a Housing Patriot Award on Monday at a kickoff event for the Sonoma County Housing Veterans Campaign, conceived by a coalition of local housing and veterans service agencies.

The veterans occupying his EStreet apartments have formed a small community, he said. "They like it; they're very comfortable there."

For many landlords, there's a stigma attached to people using government rent vouchers, Gonsalves said. Instead of blanket rejection, landlords should consider each veteran as an individual.

Landlords also should consider the mandatory support system for veterans in the voucher program, including medical and psychiatric care and caseworker support, he said.

More than 43,000 formerly homeless veterans are currently housed nationwide under the voucher program, and 185 vouchers have been issued in Sonoma County.

You can reach Staff Writer GuyKovner at 521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com.


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