By: David Walter
Several years ago it was announced that Johnson County was to be the proposed site of a new housing community devoted solely to veterans and their families. Funded through a variety of sources, the community, rightly named Patriots Place, would be an ideal location. Nestled away in the beautiful rural mountains of Northeast Tennessee, it would be in close proximity to the Mountain Home Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Johnson City, TN. Unfortunately, there has been no finite progress for what could have been the first community of its kind in the nation.
According to plans several years ago, the proposed community would have been composed of approximately 50 homes. Subsequent estimates foresaw numbers closer to 500. Some of the project would have primarily focused on building simplistic single floor designs that were specifically accommodating for previously wounded or disabled veterans. The site would have allowed for veterans of any age to apply yet focused on the recent young veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Ralph Hutto, the Veterans Affairs Service Officer for Johnson County is a proponent of Patriots Place and those young veterans. The program would really help get their lives started, said Hutto.
Support for this project was clearly abundant. The Institute for Regional Development conducted a survey and concluded that there was overwhelming support of this project among veterans both outside and throughout the surrounding area. Local government and businesses also supported the project. The county and Mountain Electric Co-op conducted a feasibility study costing tens of thousands of dollars to determine the best location in Johnson County for Patriots Place.
Support for this project is obvious for several reasons. First, it would have given veterans an opportunity to own their own home. Second, the community would have served as an incredibly strong support network for veterans and their families. I thought if we had a small community of veterans, we might have a chance of getting a clinic up here, said Hutto. Ive been working on that for five years in Johnson County. Lastly, it would have significantly increased the tax base in the county and created a great deal of construction jobs in the community. Regardless of the lasting benefits, some in the community have not felt it to be in the best interests of Johnson County. This brought progress of the Patriots Place to a halt.
A smaller project is now underway. The new project is much smaller, but it could still have a great impact on the many veterans in the county. Funding for the new project comes from several different entities. One of the larger supporters of the project is the Eastern Eight Community Development Corporation (E8CDC). They have entered a collaborative grant agreement with Home Depots Doing More For Veterans initiative that proposes the construction of six homes in the community. The $150,000 grant allows $25,000 per veteran to mediate some of the initial building costs. According to Home Depots website, the company has pledged more than $80 million over five years and conducted more than 550 volunteer projects to assist veterans.
Eastern Eight called me about two weeks ago and told me about the grant, said Hutto. I was told they need some help to try and find veterans in Johnson County. Ive called a few veterans that I know would be interested but I have to have six and it has to be completed by next year. This is the first time they have done these types of grants, but Eastern Eight has helped a lot of people in Johnson County. If we can get these six done then I believe they will come in with more grants. We will start building as soon as we get all the applications and get them approved.
Several off-the-record sources of The Tomahawk attribute the lack of real community support for the plan to the notion that this project is thought of in terms of Not In My Backyard. One of the concerns is that it would be another subsidized community for low-income housing. Yet stipulations for those interested in the proposed housing are based on income restrictions of no more than $39,000 a year. This program would certainly offer assistance to those with needs, but $39,000 is much higher than the per capita income in Johnson County and its certainly a respectable salary in this area of the country.
Veterans participating in this program would be required to assist with their own housing. Those benefiting would provide a minimum 100 hour contribution of the construction. The principal mortgage on the house would also be lowered for any additional hours put into the construction. In exchange for their hard work, the E8CDC would complete all paperwork and permitting for the property, offer low rate financing at zero to two percent interest, and provide home-buyer education. Payments would be drastically lower than some other traditional options. For example, a mortgage payment for a veteran making roughly $1,375 a month would be an estimated $394.
Viewed as an excellent and worthwhile endeavor, the revised project has still hit a few snags. E8CDCs Director of Public Relations, Chuck Mason, said that the project has not been completed because of lack of support in the community and a general misunderstanding of what it entails. Another concern is that this project would not fully incorporate veterans from the community. Mason and Hutton say otherwise.
There are two or three folds in this project. This (the original project) is on the back burner now, said Mason. Eastern Eight comes in to enhance the community. Obviously if the community doesnt want, we cant help out. Mason said that the previous project was not as accepted in Johnson County as previously anticipated. But a new project is underway to still provide homes to six veterans in Johnson County. If the project and E8CDC succeeds, this will be an excellent resource for the community. Were just sitting on the money, and we just need to find people to help out, said Mason. Patriots Place is still loosely on track. Im exploring some possible sites, but they are considerably smaller sites. We still like the concept and Johnson County still needs the housing. The county is one of our target communities and we want to be an intricate element of its development. Were excited about the future of this project.
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