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Vets home project focus changes

A supportive housing project at the Minnesota Veterans Home Hastings campus has a new focus - veterans only.

The Minnesota Veterans Affairs Board decided recently it wanted a proposed supportive housing project at the campus to be strictly for veterans.

For almost two years, the proposal as presented, had been geared for veterans, but would have allowed other residents who qualified according to income, to be offered supportive housing.

The Department of Veterans Affairs Board of Directors has decided (as of earlier this month) to present the supportive housing proposal as one for veterans only, indicating its homes/campuses are for veterans. Its proposal, with a price tag of more than $10 million is expected to be ready for the start of the Minnesota Legislative session Feb. 4.

This change in position comes after the project gained $7.9 million in funding earlier this year from the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency to construct the building. That funding, however, has been on hold because according to state law, one state agency cannot transfer funds to another for building purposes.

Both Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport, and Rep. Denny McNamara, Republican-Hastings, supported the project and were planning to help win funding (or a language change to allow the use of the funds) in this upcoming legislative session.

Sieben and McNamara continue to be supportive of the supportive housing project at the Hastings home.

Sieben, who is vice chair of the Senate Investment Committee, led a tour of about 15 other senators this fall to view proposed bonding projects.

"Everyone was hopeful that this project (before the change) would gain funding this year and the money would be allocated," Sieben said. "It is very disappointing in that respect.

"I am frustrated (because of the late change), but I remain committed to the project. The agency has changed their request and they may not gain their money this year. But I continue to support it."

The Department of Veterans Affairs has been working on a design and cost estimates, and is proceeding.

"The reality is that it may not happen as fast," McNamara said. "The Veterans Affairs Board has two other higher priority requests (one at the Minneapolis campus). But they are working on a new proposal and plan to present it. I respect their approach and what they want to do."

The bonding requests for the 2010 session could be as much as $3 billion, according to Sen. Keith Langseth, chair of the Senate Investment Committee. That figure will likely be pared to between $800 and $900 million.

Sieben said veterans projects should have top priority.

"When we consider the requests, we look at the service they provide, and this would provide care for the homeless," she said. "I believe it is our moral imperative to help people who have sacrificed their lives for us, and we should help in giving them something back.

"But as a senator who represents Hastings, I feel I have to do the best I can in being an advocate for the projects in this area," she said. "I also realize there are tremendous needs across the state."