A Home for Students Who Served: Group Looks to Buy House For Vets Who Attend Dartmouth

Monday, March 31, 2014
Hanover — Military veterans could choose to live with former comrades-in-arms while attending Dartmouth College under a nonprofit group’s plan to buy a house for them to rent less than a mile from campus.

With an anonymous pledge of $375,000 in hand toward the $475,000 purchase price of a private house on Lebanon Street — about half a mile from the Hanover Co-op Food Store — Project VetCare Inc. is seeking $100,000 in donations to secure that pledge by May 31.

The group aims to rent the house to three or four veterans at a time at the start, co-founder Robert Chambers said on Friday, then, depending on need and demand, Project VetCare might make improvements that would allow for housing more tenants.

“Project VetCare became aware of some of the frustrations experienced by student veterans while employing a number of them as interns helping us with our mission,” said Chambers, a Vietnam veteran who cofounded the group in 2012. “The idea of providing a home that such students could call their own thus arose quite naturally.”

Chris Allen, president of the Dartmouth Undergraduate Veterans Association and an intern working in Project VetCare’s office in downtown Hanover, is one of 18 veterans studying as undergraduates at Dartmouth.

“I’ve enjoyed living the dorm life (with traditional undergraduates),” the 25-year-old junior said, “but there are other guys who might want that option, and some need that option.

“This is definitely a great start.”

So far, nine donors have stepped forward to cover the balance, with Marine Corps veteran and former Dartmouth President James Wright and his wife, Susan Debevoise Wright, at the head of the line of check writers.

“It is important for Dartmouth veteran students to be a part of campus life, good for them but also good for the other students,” Wright, who has continued to advocate for veterans seeking higher education since retiring as president in 2009, said recently. “The Dartmouth housing office has worked to provide housing opportunities for the veterans, but there were limits to what they could do. This option will definitely meet the needs of some of the veterans. It is hard to know if it will provide housing for all who would be interested, but it surely will be an important start in that direction.”

Project VetCare plans to renovate the house with volunteer labor, and to use the rent that the veteran tenants pay to support its programs for veterans around the Upper Valley — from help preventing foreclosures and evictions to navigating the red tape involved in applying for medical care and other benefits. Some 8,000 veterans are estimated to be living in Grafton County alone.

“The demand for our assistance for benefits is just growing exponentially,” said Chambers, a cofounder of Bonnie Clac, now known as More Than Wheels, which helps lower-income residents in the Valley buy affordable cars. “We’re routinely seeing three or four veterans a day.”

Project VetCare initially considered buying a $200,000 house in West Lebanon to rent to veterans in general, as a way to generate income for the organization. Then a potential donor — whom the organization describes as “the family of a veteran” — suggested buying a place near campus for veterans studying at Dartmouth, and offered to put up the lion’s share of the purchase price.

Then they learned that the house on Lebanon Street was for sale.

“The Hanover housing market is as tight as it’s ever been,” said Chambers. “The fact that we found this is kind of a godsend.”

David Corriveau can be reached at dacorriveau@gmail.com and at 603-727-3304.

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