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American military veterans can face many challenges readjusting to civilian life, but a planned housing project in Windsor hopes to ease the plight of former servicemen and women on the North Coast who are unable to find housing.

The $30 million Windsor Veterans Village is years in the making, and a $9.9 million state grant announced last month will help make the vision a reality, supporters say.

Plans for the 60-unit complex call for one- and two-bedroom apartments and community gathering spaces just west of the Town Green. Construction is set to begin in April and wrap up by the end of 2019.

The housing development is meant to assist veterans who are struggling to regain their footing, said Joe Millsap, spokesman for Veterans Resource Centers of America, the Santa Rosa-based nonprofit behind the effort.

“The idea is that while this is permanent support housing, they don’t live there forever, but they can,” said Millsap. “The success stories are when they’re completely reintegrated into society and self-sufficient. If they don’t quite get there, that’s what the complex is for and they can stay indefinitely.”

The veterans group was founded in 1972 by servicemen returning from Vietnam to a lack of supportive resources. With partners, Millsap said the nonprofit paid $2.8 million for the 9.75-acre property located near the corner of Oak Park Street and Daybrook Drive and expects to close on the sale in March.

The proximity of the land to the county’s Veterans Service office, about 4 miles away near Sonoma County Airport, makes the Windsor site a good fit, Millsap said. Residents will be aided by on-site case managers as well as fellow veterans inhabiting the units.

“It’s tremendously helpful for veterans to live among veteran peers,” said Millsap, a Marine Corps veteran who served in the Iraq War. “That community is very supportive. Other veterans tend to have their backs.”

Nearly 30 percent of the 40,000 U.S. veterans estimated to be homeless reside in California, which accounts for the highest total in the nation, according to according to a 2017 report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. About two-thirds of homeless veterans were living out of cars, in parks or in abandoned buildings, the report said.

In Sonoma County, more than 200 veterans are known to be homeless, equating to about 7 percent of the area’s homeless population, according to the county’s annual census.

The Windsor project is the latest housing initiative to assist veterans in the county. Two facilities in Santa Rosa and Petaluma operated by Veterans Resource Centers of America offer a total of 25 transitional beds. A seven-unit complex spearheaded by Community Housing Sonoma County also opened in October out of Santa Rosa’s old Benton Street firehouse. The same nonprofit has two other veterans projects in the pipeline to provide 28 more beds.

The new funding for the Windsor complex comes by way of the state’s Veterans Housing and Homelessness Prevention program and represents the largest single contribution toward the project. The $9.9 million is also the third-largest grant awarded across 15 qualifying veterans housing projects in California, representing a total of $72.9 million.

“Our at-risk deserve the very best housing solution we can provide,” Dr. Vito Imbasciani, secretary of the state’s Department of Veterans Affairs, said in a statement announcing the grant awards. “With the help of our partners, the California Department of Housing and Community Development and California Housing Finance Agency, at-risk veterans in California can find a place to call home.”

Those eligible for the new housing will primarily be recipients of federal vouchers that subsidize monthly rent for veterans and their families. Throughout the county, there are 419 such vouchers available; 328 are presently being used to house veterans. Another 49 are seeking rentals that accept their vouchers and 42 others are in the application process.

The town and county kicked in a combined $1.25 million to get the project off the ground. The Home Depot Foundation also contributed $500,000, and the remaining funding is expected to come through federal low-income tax credits, tax-free bonds and private donations.

“The need for this kind of housing in this place that we live could not be more important, and it cannot be understated,” said Supervisor James Gore, who represents the Windsor area. “This is for people who provided service on the deepest level and something we need to do. For me, it’s the pearl of what we need to invest in.”

Windsor officials voiced strong support for the project, too.

“I’m really glad to see the veterans get such a prime piece of property, because they deserve it,” said Councilwoman Deb Fudge. “We’ve worked so hard to build and provide a good quality of life. In Windsor, I think they’ll feel like part of the community right away.”

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin Fixler at 707-521-5336 or at kevin.fixler@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @kfixler.

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