Melrose Park’s Veterans Village opened with a ribbon-cutting celebration in June. Funding set-aside mandates mean only one-third of units will actually go to veterans, organizers say. | A Safe Haven Foundation | Caption: Cook County Chronicle || Below photo: Ron Kubert | Cook County Chronicle
Monday, August 8, 2016 || Originally Published: Cook County Chronicle || By Jean Lotus
This summer, formerly homeless Air Force veteran Ron Kubert, 62, experienced a phenomenon he’s encountered too many times with promised veteran services: If it looks too good to be true, something’s wrong.
Kubert was at the end of his yearlong stay at the Catholic Charities-run Cooke’s Manor transitional housing center at Hines VA hospital in Maywood. He was looking to move into his own apartment in July. A caseworker told him about “Veterans Village” in Melrose Park, a spanking new 35-unit development with rent-subsidized one-bedroom apartments. Hines social workers had visited the project and received pamphlets marketing the units to veterans. The project’s website featured images of military dog tags.
But poor customer service and a very small number of units available has disappointed Kunert and about 11 other veterans from Cooke’s Manor who thought the project could benefit them.
“[Veterans Village] seemed like a dream come true, a brand new apartment for $355 a month that wasn’t in the war zone,” Kunert said. “But really, it was like a gas station with a sign that says ‘$2.07’ but with little tiny words underneath that say ‘with car wash.’”
In June, Veterans Village celebrated its grand-opening celebration. The $11 million Melrose Veterans Project covers three city blocks in the 100 blocks of 13th, 14th and 15th avenues near Westlake Hospital, which donated the land.
A festive Flag Day party and open house was held, involving veterans, politicians and food. The Melrose Park Police Color Guard presented a flag ceremony, Mayor Ron Serpico cut a ribbon, the national anthem was sung and veterans from all wars were present.
“Our nation’s returning heroes deserve a place to come home to that meets their unique needs and that of their families,” said Neli Vazquez-Rowland, president of administering not-for-profit, A Safe Haven Foundation.
Serpico declined to return requests for comment for this article.
The project was built in a multi-year private-public partnership financed with a bundle of grant monies and tax credits from various government sources.
And that’s where Kunert’s problems began.
To read more on Kunert’s and other veterans’ problems, click here. VFP