Lawsuit keeps veteran housing project alive

Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014 12:29 AM
Last updated Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014 1:23 AM
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Last August, Karen Saltzman stood outside a vacant mental health clinic on the grounds of the Charlie Norwood VA Center in uptown Augusta and imagined a reinvented campus where homeless and disabled veterans could seek shelter and receive increased access to health care.

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Dexter McCain, 55, served in the Army from 1978 to 1986.   JON-MICHAEL SULLIVAN/STAFF
Dexter McCain, 55, served in the Army from 1978 to 1986.

She said the endangered property had “great bones” and that after traces of asbestos, lead paint, mildew and rust were removed, developers hoped to transform the three-story building into a veterans housing project known as Freedom’s Path.

The development, along with two other historic properties, would open by the end of 2014 and provide a gym, computer lab and close to 100 one-bedroom apartments to equip veterans with the resources they needed to find jobs and lead productive, healthy lives.

Now, the future of Freedom’s Path is clouded by a smoldering legal battle, amid claims that the state of Georgia used unwritten rules, unnecessary delays and retaliation tactics to block project funding, threatening to keep ailing veterans from finding the resources they need to succeed.

“We will not give up on this much needed project,” said Saltzman, executive director of Hope House, an Augusta nonprofit that’s co-developing the project. “It is my hope that we can eventually move forward and help those Veterans that have served us.”

Citing arbitrary, capricious and discriminatory acts, Freedom’s Path lead developer, Affordable Housing Solutions (AHS), sued the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) and the state Housing and Finance Authority in October for blocking federal funding for 98 veteran housing units at the VA.

No court date has been set in the case; however, in legal documents filed last week in Fulton County Superior Court, each side wrote that the prospect of a settlement was “poor” because the judgment involved government-regulated funding and that a six- to 10-day trial was expected, possibly next year.

Since 2009, AHS has sought to fund Freedom’s Path through the National Home Investment Partnership Program and federal tax credits provided in exchange for private developers limiting occupancy and rents to low-income tenants.

The project, granted a 15-month contract worth up to $5.5 million, was designed to serve veterans such as Neil Franklin Wilson, a 68-year-old, 100-percent disabled Vietnam veteran who came to Augusta a little more than a month ago from Anchor Behavioral Health Hospital in Atlanta.

Wilson, who served in the Navy from 1966 to 1972, suffered a heart attack in 2005 and has been off cocaine 20 years, but said he still struggles with alcohol. He has been prescribed 20 different medications for pain and depression. He said he hopes the Augusta VA, which has assigned him a social worker to review a 4-inch packet of mental health records he carries with him around town, can help get him into a treatment program to curb his addiction.

Wilson has been divorced 35 years. His only sister lives in Florida.

“Every now and then I get into wine and can’t just drink one bottle,” said Wilson, who’s staying at the Salvation Army Center of Hope in downtown Augusta. “I’ll finish four and it tears up my system.”

According to AHS’ lawsuit, the project’s approval hinged not on whom it served, but with whom its development team consulted and partnered to complete Freedom’s Path.

In August 2013, after more than a year of legal proceedings, the state lost a lawsuit to Beneficial Communities and was ordered to approve the developer for $950,000 in federal tax credits to construct and rehabilitate 69 low-income housing units at Golden Hills Apartments in Dahlonega, Ga., state records show.

The Dahlonega project began in 2008, according to online records.

Beneficial Communities was hired in August 2011 as the experienced development consultant for Freedom’s Path. A consultant, the Rev. Craig Taylor, a former Air Force lieutenant and affordable housing activist, had already worked with developers on both the Augusta and Dahlonega project for two years.

AHS claims the state purposely sabotaged Freedom’s Path because of the Beneficial lawsuit.

“It was kind of a double whammy,” Atlanta attorney Jason W. Graham, said of the company’s ties to the two consultants.

Graham was the lawyer for Golden Hills in its lawsuit and is representing Freedom’s Path to overturn the state’s “unlawful acts” and require it to close on the previously approved federal funding. He said he is confident community affairs wronged his clients, but that he fears the project may lose VA support and more than $400,000 in grant money from foundational partners.

“I do have concerns that we may wind up with a Pyrrhic with such a devastating cost that it is tantamount to defeat,” he said. “My clients passed exhaustion and exasperation a couple years ago. Now, they are on a rally and compelled to fight it to the end.”

That fight might include proving the legality of Freedom’s Path. The state contested in legal documents filed last week that the project is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act because it isolates individuals with developmental disabilities and mental illness from the community at large.

“A state is required to house such individuals in the most integrated setting appropriate to those individuals’ needs,” its preliminary status reports reads.

Proponents of Freedom’s Path in Augusta disagree.

Jim Lorraine, president and CEO of the Augusta Warrior Project, would not comment on the lawsuit since his organization has a relationship with each party involved, but said a project such as Freedom’s Path satisfies a critical need and that his nonprofit hopes that the development can be completed. The VA declined comment.

“Any initiative that supports veterans who are chronically homeless and in need of increased access to health care is important and a program the community needs, regardless of who does it or what happens,” he said. “If we can help just one veteran, then in my opinion that’s enough of a need.”

That one veteran could be Dexter McCain, a 55-year-old Army veteran who served in the military from 1978 to 1986.

McCain has been homeless off and on since 2000 when he moved to the area from North Carolina. He has three grown sons and 12 grandchildren.

“I don’t want to burden them with my problems,” he said.

McCain spent three months at the VA last summer to overcome a cocaine addiction and was clean for four months after his release in September, but since has struggled to stay sober. He sleeps under the John C. Calhoun Expressway.

“It’s rough out here,” he said. “There are a lot of homeless veterans that are not getting the help they need.”

Graham does not know if renovating historic facilities to house homeless veterans will positively influence his client’s case, but he said he would like to think it would put them on the “high road.”

“In a project that would serve disabled homeless veterans, how much more fairness could you possibly want in the interest of justice?” he asked. “I hope it will make a difference.”

Freedom's Path


Citing arbitrary, capricious and discriminatory acts, the developer of Freedom’s Path, a veteran housing project planned on the uptown campus of the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center, sued the Georgia Department of Community Affairs and the state Housing and Finance Authority last October for blocking federal funding for 98 apartment units.


Between June 2010 and January 2013, the state asked lead developer, Affordable Housing Solutions, to resubmit at least five project applications because it wanted it to partner with a co-developer; combine both the transitional and permanent housing pieces; retain an experienced development consultant; have the state review its support services plan; and lastly, because too many changes were made to the project.

Among its defenses, the state said in legal documents submitted last week that DCA was justified in refusing a federal home loan because AHS failed to meet its contractual obligations. As for tax credits, the state said DCA’s denial of Freedom’s Path funding was based on “sound and reasonable” judgments by staff in accordance with department policy and that the decision was upheld at two levels of the agency’s appeal process.

“The state of Georgia feels that they made the right decision with regards to the applications,” said Alan Lubel, an Atlanta lawyer representing the DCA as a special assistant attorney general. “There is no basis for the lawsuit.”

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oldredneckman96 02/08/14 - 10:16 pm
Pendleton Camp for Veterans

On April 5th, 1922, in Richmond County, Georgia, a Henry B. King set in a Declaration of Trust, a 20 acre tract to be known as Pendleton Camp. This was a memorial to his son, John Pendleton King who had been killed in WWI in France. This camp was to benefit the wounded and disabled soldiers who had served in the U.S. Armed Forces. For many years, a Clarence T. Barinowski, a Carlon S. Faulk and Virginia Lehmann were members of the Board of Directors of Pendleton Camp. They did a great job of placing those deserving in the homes and maintaining the grounds and keeping the city of Augusta from taking the property. However, by 1995 a new group of trustees were evicting the last of the veterans and families who had lived there. The Law Firm of Fulcher, Hagler, Reed, Hanks and Harper was apparently running the Camp.
Now, as we all know, there are many veterans needing a home, while Pendleton Camp is occupied by fewer than a half dozen or so homes and a Memorial lot with a placard on a stone explaining the Camp. There you will find a flagpole that my grand-uncle raised old Glory on everyday from his return from WWI to his end in the 70’s, sadly, it is now never raised. When you turn off Wrightsborro Road and head south on Johns Road, in just a block or so you will find Johns Road Ext./Mame Road on the right. Do not let the “Private” “Keep Out” signs stop you, it is a public road. Pendleton Camp is as public as the Pendleton King Park just a few blocks away on Troup Street both named for the same John Pendleton King for many reasons.
I write this to let the veterans of Augusta know about this place and what it was for. It will take someone with a bit of legal knowledge and a lot of “don’t quit” attitude to put it back to its intended use.
Good Luck and thank you for your service.

JimS 02/09/14 - 11:53 am
Ignoring the Results of the Free Wars

Freedom Isn't Free!! We Paid For It!! American Veterans!!
"12 years also is a long time. We now have a lifetime responsibility
to a generation of service members, veterans and their families." Dr. Jonathan Woodson 11 Sep. 2013: 'With 9/11 Came Lifetime Responsibility'

As those served ignore their responsibility and most of the issues, DeJa-Vu all over again:
Congress thus Country, Undermine Veterans! Writing/Talking related to the VA, using us Veterans as their magnetic ribbons phony 'patriotism'! Free wars and not Sacrificing for the decades of results of those wars and for decades while ignoring many of the issues of the Veterans of!!
There's only one branch of Government, Federal and States, consistently doing for not only us Veterans' but also the Military personal and their Families, and without the control of the Countries purse strings, combining the Cabinet agencies abilities to help where possible with their budgets and charged responsibilities. That's the whole Executive branch under President Obama. Doing what Congress, State legislatures, in passing feel patriotic support bills that are unfunded, and the people represented by them and served by the Military refuse to do, Sacrifice, especially the wealthy!

The Abandoning of the missions and the purposes of, along with the once
again promises to the Afghan people, first time was after the
Afghan/Soviet long war, quickly after 9/11, with the Lives still being lost, those serving still being wounded!!! Giving rise to, with the rhetoric from within, not a victory over, and spread of al Qaeda type ideology criminal terrorism!!!

The Cost of War, All Costs, the Responsibility of Those Served

"If military action is worth our troops’ blood, it should be worth
our treasure, too" "not just in the abstract, but in the form of a
specific ante by every American." -Andrew Rosenthal 10 Feb. 2013

Where were the 'offsets' to federal spending as the rubber stamping, more then the off the books wars with no-bid contracts, was going on and claiming 'patriotism' for?

Decades, and wars of, of under funding the VA. With these two recent
wars little was done for the Veterans of as well as the Military
personal, i.e. Walter Reed as one example, and their Families, in the
first years of both under the previous executive branch and those
congresses. Rubber stamped war costs, off the books and on the countries
credit card with no bid private contracts, including building an
expensive private merc army! That's not adding in all the other rubber
stamped costs of the bush administration policy wants, especially in the
first six years of!

Rachel Maddow: "We got a huge round of tax cuts in
this country a few weeks before 9/11. Once 9/11 happened and we invaded
Afghanistan, we kept the tax cuts anyway.
How did we think we were going to pay for that war? Did we think it was

Then, when we started a second simultaneous war in another country, we
gave ourselves a second huge round of tax cuts. After that second war
started. The wars, I guess, we thought would be free, don`t worry about
it, civilians. Go about your business." 23 May 2013

David (CBS News) Martin: "Then there's the financial cost. To date,
the Pentagon has spent more than $500 billion on the war in Afghanistan.
A defense spending bill the Senate is expected to pass this week would
add another $80 billion to that." 17 December 2013

That's not counting those decades to come results from costs and the once again ignored, by those served, issues!

The wars, neither Afghanistan nor Iraq, have yet been paid for. Nor
especially the now decades to come, DeJa-Vu all over again, the of
results for those sent, over and over, and the continuing under funding
the Peoples Responsibility, the Veterans Administration charged with
much more then just caring for the wounded, as those served ignore most
of those results from!!

'Cost of War' site {real and estimated costs}: "Total
US federal spending associated with the Iraq war has been $1.7 trillion
through FY2013. In addition, future health and disability payments for
veterans will total $590 billion and interest accrued to pay for the war
will add up to $3.9 trillion." 19 March 2013 © 2011 Watson Institute, Brown University

USN All Shore '67-'71 GMG3 Vietnam In Country '70-'71

fishman960 02/09/14 - 12:06 pm
Freedom Path

This project has been a nightmare since the beginning. Every day I look across my street to see if any activity has started at building 76.
I would really like to know just how much money has been spent on this so far?
And to think that a gate was the problem. I am also curious as to if the gate access was approved, where would the project be now?

corgimom 02/09/14 - 02:31 pm
I can see their point, about

I can see their point, about that it segregates them and doesn't integrate them into the community.

But I still have trouble seeing veterans that are alcoholics and drug addicts as "disabled", just as I have trouble seeing non-veterans that are alcoholics and drug addicts as "disabled."

That seems to me to be a self-inflicted disability.

Junket103 02/10/14 - 07:57 am
Corgi is Correct

With a few exceptions, the vast majority of homeless people, have a mental illness or substance abuse problem. This includes those homeless individuals who are veterans. Their military experience has very little to do with their current situation. Do these individuals need help, yes. Should it be a VA solution, not really.

Part of the objection to the Charlie Norwood solution, was that it wasn't just for veterans. It was prioritizing veterans, but if space was available, non veterans could be served as well.

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