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New law clears way for 1,200 VA apartments for LA homeless vets

Building 208 (left) and Building 209 are seen on the VA campus. In 2010, the VA budgeted $20 million to renovate 209, but work hasn't started.
Nancy Pastor for NPR
Part of the VA's Westwood campus. Sixty-five transitional apartments in the building on the right will now be converted into permanent supportive housing for homeless vets.

President Obama Thursday signed into law a bill that removes the final legal roadblock to building more than a thousand housing units for homeless vets at the Department of Veterans Affairs' Westwood campus.

The new law restores the VA's authority to negotiate and sign leases on the nearly 400-acre property, an authority that had been stripped by Congress almost ten years ago.

The VA's master plan for the campus calls for building 1,200 units of permanent supportive housing for homeless vets.

The agency's first order of business will be to turn 65 units of transitional apartments on the campus into permanent housing, said Vince Kane, special assistant to VA Secretary Bob McDonald.

Kane could not say when the VA will solicit bids for construction of the rest of the 1,200 units. 

Under the new law, the VA can also sign leases at the Westwood campus for a variety of other services for veterans, including health care, education, vocational training, legal aid, child care and transportation.

According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, local government's efforts to get veterans off the streets are bearing fruit. The most recent headcount of the area's homeless population found the number of homeles vets down 30 percent, from 4,362 in 2015 to 3,071 in 2016.

Officials from the United Way's Home For Good L.A. program, which runs the government's efforts to end veteran homelessness, say they're housing about 300 homeless vets a month outside of the Westwood VA campus.

Congress had revoked the VA's leasing authority for the Westwood property in 2007, after reports surfaced that the agency had leased parts of the property to tenants that were not providing services to veterans.