John Sillanpa looked around his gleaming studio apartment and let out a laugh.
“Even the cockroaches are new,” he said, smiling as he surveyed his new home.
Sillanpa, 68, an Army artilleryman who served in Vietnam, is among the first residents of the Richard A. Brustad Homes, a new, 100-apartment complex reserved for homeless veterans.
The $14.3 million project near Fort Snelling was dedicated Wednesday after almost a decade of planning.
“There are steps we can take to ensure that no veteran in this state goes without a roof over their heads, and this is one of them,” said Elizabeth Flannery, chief executive of the Community Housing Development Corp. (CHDC).
Michael Novack, 52, was a sergeant in an Army engineer battalion in Iraq. Originally from Coon Rapids, Novack spent the last six years living in homeless shelters and in the streets.
“The day I signed my lease, I took pictures on my phone and posted them on Facebook,” said Novack, who will pay $437 a month for his studio apartment. All the residents pay 30 percent of their income for their studio apartments. For many, that income consists of Social Security or veterans disability benefits.
Novack, however, hopes to go to college and run his own security business. He’s making plans to enroll and work toward a degree in criminal justice through a Veterans Affairs program. His called his new apartment “a blessing.”
“It’s the first time I’ve had a place I could call my own in 12 years,” Novack said. “Now my son can come and spend the night with me.”
The homes were named in honor of CHDC founder Brustad, who died in January. CHDC developed the project with funding from UnitedHealth Group, which invested $5.2 million, and Minnesota Housing, which contributed $7.7 million in deferred loans.
“There is a connection between health and housing,” said Lynne High, a UnitedHealth Group spokeswoman. “We are very dedicated to the idea of affordable housing.”
Before the afternoon ribbon cutting, employees of UnitedHealthcare and its affiliated company, Optum, put together welcome baskets for the new residents. Towels, toiletries, clothes hangers, healthy snacks and other items went into laundry totes. All the employee volunteers are veterans, said Shelley Mueller, a senior project manager at Optum and also a major in the Minnesota Army National Guard who’s done an infantry tour in Iraq.
“They need us,” she said of the veterans who will be living in the apartments. “It can be really hard to get back on your feet after a deployment,” she added, which can lead to job losses, personal setbacks and, ultimately, homelessness.
Sillanpa was living with a friend, “and then he got a sweetie,” which led to Sillanpa moving out in June. He’s been looking for a place to live ever since, “but it’s hard to find a place you can afford on Social Security,” he said. “If not for this, I might be living under an overpass.”
Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin called the Brustad Homes “a welcome addition to Hennepin County and the greater Minneapolis area. Today’s opening represents a model public-private partnership that will make a significant difference in the lives of so many veterans.”