8,000 Homeless Vets in L.A. Excluded from Rented-Out VA Campus

Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Old Soldiers Home in Los Angeles 1892 (photo: courtesy of Carolina Barrie)

While an estimated 8,000 homeless veterans wander around Los Angeles, the largest Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical center in the country—centrally located with lots of vacant land on its 388 acres—is making millions of dollars for the VA by leasing out property to private enterprise.

Without any readily-available public data on just how much money the VA is making from its rentals, National Public Radio (NPR), using the Freedom of Information Act to obtain long-term rental agreements and communications between the agency and Congress, estimated that the VA has made at least $28 million and possibly more than $40 million on the deals.

The VA has gotten aggressive in the past decade about developing new revenue streams on one of the most valuable pieces of undeveloped real estate in the city. Although grand plans for dense projects haven’t materialized, the land has been used as an Enterprise Car lot, Fox Entertainment Group storage area, laundry facility for Marriot Hotels, a UCLA stadium and an athletic complex for a private school.

When it looked like development was about to explode, California Senator Dianne Feinstein and Congressman Henry Waxman pushed through legislation in 2008 that made it illegal to sell or lease the VA property. That may have slowed some development, but it didn’t stop the VA, which resorted to a practice called “enhanced-sharing” that strongly resembles leasing. Waxman has 87 of the agreements, sans rental amounts, on his website.      

While the VA was pushing for more development, activists were filing suit on behalf of disabled and homeless veterans to retain and utilize the property for them. The American Civil Liberties Union, a handful of prominent law firms and 11 veterans with severe disabilities sued in June 2011 to block the rentals and establish permanent housing on the site for mentally disabled veterans.

Joining them early in the suit was Carolina Winston Barrie, the great-great niece of Arcadia Bandini de Baker, one of the land donators in 1887. Barrie wanted the original deed, which dictated the land be used to “locate, establish, construct and permanently maintain such branch of said National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers.”

The clear intent was that the land be used for veterans. And for awhile, that’s just how it was used. It was a fully functional little village, with a trolley, a post office and a chapel—all facilitating the care of disabled veterans.

While VA sharing of land at the West Los Angeles site continues, efforts to develop new veterans facilities have stalled. A housing project announced in 2007 to utilize three abandoned buildings went nowhere.

–Ken Broder      


To Learn More:

Los Angeles VA Has Made Millions on Rental Deals (by Ina Jaffe, National Public Radio)

West Los Angeles VA (Representative Henry Waxman’s website)

ACLU Sues Dept. of Veterans Affairs over Land Use (by Helen Jeong, Venice-Mar Vista Patch)

1888 Deed (pdf)

Prohibition of VA Disposal (H.R. 2764, Section 224) (pdf)

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