By Kris Leonhardt
GREEN BAY – On Wednesday, Dec. 20, the Brown County Board of Supervisors approved a resolution that will provide land for a project designed to provide a helping hand for local veterans.
The resolution authorizes the donation of 3.5 acres at 2890 St. Anthony Drive on Green Bay’s east side to construct tiny homes to aid veterans.
Gail and Kim Nohr of Veterans 1st of NEW Tiny Homes Village have been working on the project for two years.
“I started thinking about this a couple of years ago, I was employed at the Broward County Veterans Service Office, taking phone calls about friends who are homeless or about to lose their home every day,” Gail recalled, “and I felt like I needed to do something. And Kim then just retired as a carpenter home builder and I said, ‘I think we need to start building a tiny home village for these veterans in need.’ I joined the Housing and Homeless Coalition and found out there were over 80 homeless veterans in Green Bay and over 1,000 that need affordable housing. We brought it to the county board, and they were kind enough to kind of steer us in the right direction.”
Kim added that it was also a matter of giving back to those who gave.
“We just appreciate the liberties that we have in this country and the fact that our veterans are the ones that gave us that liberty. So what we’re trying to do is just kind of circle back and help the veterans that need a little support and hopefully give them that; that’s really what it boils down to.”
Gail said that the program has “20 different agencies that are supplying their offering and volunteering all their services, along with the workforce development, five different employment agencies, different mental health agencies, different behavioral health programs. We’re offering, sort of, 20 different programs to help them to become self-sufficient in two to five years. That’s the goal.”
The Nohrs said that workforce unions, job corps, apprenticeship programs and other employment programs/organizations have also offered their services.
“[With] our program they’re going to be back into the community within five years, like the transitional lab — a two-year program… We want to give them the resources that they can get back into the community getting back on their feet — financial literacy, job training, job, job availability,” explained Kim.
He added that the plan is to have mentors follow up with them after they leave the village environment.
The land approved for the project is adjacent to Veterans Manor, “which was a project that Brown County sold the land to an organization that built housing for homeless veterans. And so this is a continuation of our effort as a county to make sure that we’re doing everything we possibly can to help all the veterans in our community. Be very clear Brown County is not in the housing business. And secondly, we provide programs and services to veterans. So, this fits within our wheelhouse; but more importantly, we have capacity to be one of the supporters of this overall project in his endeavor, so we’re really appreciative of their efforts,” said Brown County Executive Troy Streckenbach.
“We’ve been really inspired by the commitment by community members to really do something that helps out our community overall; but most importantly, our veterans in our community.”
Streckenbach said that the county has 180 acres of developable land on the site and future projects may be considered if the program is successful.
The project recently received a $25,000 grant from the Greater Green Bay Community Foundation through the Stand Together Foundation annual grants cycle and a $50,000 WHEDA Foundation Housing Grant.
The total cost of the project will be around $2.4 million.
“We have raised $425,000 cash, pledged in-kind materials of $35,000 and pledged labor in-kind totaling about $400,000,” Kim said.
With the land donation, Veterans 1st of NEW plans to start construction this spring and have it completed by Oct. 2024.
Six homes and a community center will be completed in Phase 1.
The other 14 homes will be constructed seven at a time and are planned to be completed by 2025.
The village will allow 25 veterans to be served through four 2-bedroom, 600-square-foot transitional units and the remaining seventeen 400-square-foot affordable units.
Those living in the transitional housing will live rent-free and pay 30% of their income once a job is secured.
The affordable units will be offered at “below fair-market value” rent.
Gail said that there are about 200 volunteers already on their list.
“But, we’re always looking for mentors — veteran mentors — to kind of help them along,” she said.
According to the most recent “Greater Green Bay Blueprint to Prevent and End Homelessness,” prepared for the Greater Green Bay Community Housing Initiative Task Force, “there is an undersupply of 3,715 rental units for the lowest income individuals and families in Green Bay, but a significant surplus of rental units at the 31-50% AMI affordability — keeping affordable rental housing just out of reach for the poorest in Brown County.”
And, many veterans face housing insecurity — up to 13%, or over 480.
The Veterans Village project plan is to provide homes to the area’s homeless veterans and those at risk, while also providing needed services.
“In terms of what they were looking to accomplish — as we learn more about mental health and homelessness and how the two are very connected, we realize having a safe home for someone to start their journey and recovery is the first step. So, the tiny homes kind of serve as that first step and giving that secure and safe space for someone to begin their journey to where they ultimately want to be,” Streckenbach stated.