State considers shifting mortgage money to veterans

May 16, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Those who serve in the military often have many issues to deal with on their return home. As a result, more than a billion dollars in veteran's home loan money goes unused.

Of all the services available, the last thing a homeless veteran in California, like Army Sgt. Steve Tafoya, needs is a mortgage.

"No, not to buy a house. Just a place to live and maybe some counseling," Tafoya said.

The state, though, has more than a billion dollars of voter-approved bond money untapped for the sole purpose of helping veterans buy a house, all while services for veterans are strapped for funding.

Last year, just 83 loans were approved.

The housing crisis and high-interest rates attached to the bonds made the program unattractive.

Former Marine Colonel, now Assemblyman Rocky Chavez says veterans of today have different needs - just look at the dramatic rise in homelessness among veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Because of PTSD, they have an inability to get a job to be able to pay for housing," Chavez said.

Assembly Speaker John Perez is proposing to ask voters to take $600 million of the home loan program and put it toward veteran services.

"It is appalling that we have veterans who've come home after serving our country finding themselves on the street," Perez said.

The Department of Veteran Affairs says the housing market is picking up and that with lower interest rates now, it expects a surge in loan applications. So this may not be the time to shift the money.

The agency points out that if the state moves the funds, taxpayers will have to pick up the tab for all the interest on the bonds, about $40 million dollars a year. When it's used for mortgages, homeowner pay the interest.

"We're helping veterans at no cost to the citizens of California. This program is completely self-sustaining. Why wouldn't we want to keep these resources where they're needed?" Theresa Gunn of the California Department of Veteran Affairs said.

If the Perez measure is approved, California voters will decide in November 2014 if some of the home loan money should be redirected to veteran services.