The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers a variety of housing benefits to eligible veterans and service members, including mortgages that don't require a down payment, housing grants for veterans with service-related disabilities and rental assistance for veterans in need.
Whether you are a renter, plan to buy a home, or need housing assistance because of special circumstances such as disability, this guide can help you identify what type of help you may be able to get from the VA.
VA Housing Benefits at a Glance
VA Mortgage Guaranty Program
This mortgage program allows Veterans and service members to buy a home with no down payment. VA mortgages generally cost less and have more flexible qualification requirements than traditional mortgages.
Adaptive Housing Grants
Veterans with service-related disabilities can receive assistance with the costs of building or altering homes. The VA offers three programs to help Veterans live as independently as possible: Specially Adapted Housing, Special Housing Adaptation, and Temporary Residence Adaptation.
Emergency Help to Homeless Veterans
The VA works with local agencies providing benefits like subsidized rents and housing vouchers for veterans who become homeless or who are in imminent danger of becoming homeless. These veterans can contact their local VA Medical Center by calling 877-4AID-VET (877-424-3838); or online at va.gov/homeless.
VA loan centers are staffed with counselors to help you work through solutions to your financial difficulties and with your loan servicer to help you avoid foreclosure. This is available even for those who do not have VA mortgages.
States also offer an array of housing-related benefits to eligible active duty personnel and veterans. For example, the Military Housing Assistance Fund provides help with mortgage closing costs. Many states offer full or partial exemption from property taxes for disabled vets.
VA Mortgages: What They Are & Who Qualifies
VA loans are available to eligible borrowers getting a mortgage to buy or refinance a primary residence. The program does not finance rental properties or vacation houses. The VA doesn't actually lend money to homebuyers; the agency guarantees loans made by private lenders to eligible borrowers. The VA sets the minimum loan qualification requirements and it doesn't guarantee mortgages with risky provisions or loans to applicants with insufficient income or poor credit.
Qualifying for VA Home Loans
Here's what VA underwriters typically look for when they evaluate your application.
The VA requires that you apply for a certificate or eligibility. You can apply for a COE via mail or fax, or you can do it the easy way and have your VA lender get it for you using an online system available to lenders, which takes just a few minutes in most cases. You must meet minimum terms of service for different peacetime / war years to qualify.
VA underwriters calculate your residual income, which is what's available from your income for the mortgage payment after your other monthly expenses are paid. The required residual income to qualify depends on your family size and where you live. Click on the map below to see the minimum residual income the VA requires in your region.Minimum Residual Income By Region
|For loans of $79,999 and below|
|Over 5||Add $75 per person||Add $75 per person||Add $75 per person||Add $75 per person|
|For loans of $80,000 and above|
|Over 5||Add $80 per person||Add $80 per person||Add $80 per person||Add $80 per person|
VA underwriters do not use debt-to-income ratios the same way as conventional underwriters but it's worth noting that the average debt-to-income ratio for approved VA purchases hovers around 40 percent and the average for declined applicants was 47 percent. The numbers are for loans closed in August 2015, according to mortgage statisticians at Ellie Mae.
The VA does not set minimum credit score or maximum debt-to-income ratios like the FHA does. But individual lenders can still impose more rigid internal guidelines and require a certain minimum credit score. This is normally referred to as a lender overlay.
The average FICO score for approved VA purchase loans in August 2015 was 708, according to Ellie Mae. The average for VA loans during that same month was 642.
VA loans normally don't require down payments. The VA backs loans 100 percent if they are $417,000 or less, but down payments are almost always required for purchases with higher loan amounts (usually 25 percent of the difference between the purchase price and $417,000).
What about closing costs? Buyers may not have to pay all closing costs, because sellers are allowed to cover costs like appraisals, title charges, lender fees and points. In addition, sellers can contribute an additional 4 percent of the purchase price in seller contributions, such as paying the VA funding fee or even helping the buyer pay off credit card balances. The VA funding fee may also be financed into the loan — it does not have to be paid upfront. The VA does not require the borrower to have any reserves (savings) to qualify for a loan.
How Do I Apply?
Contact a lender that specializes in VA loans. For more information you can also contact a VA loan center.
Housing Grants to Buy & Build Homes
The federal government offers grants to eligible disabled veterans to help them buy, build or adapt homes that accommodate their disabilities. The Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) Special Housing Adaptation (SHA), and Temporary Residence Assistance (TRA) are all grants created for disabled veterans to help them lead more independent lives. In addition, organizations like Building Homes for Heroes build or buy homes and give them to eligible veterans and families.
Able-bodied vets might find a fit with one of the many programs available to moderate or low income homebuyers, first-time homebuyers and buyers in redevelopment areas. These include:
- Mortgage Credit Certificates (MCCs), which refund part of the mortgage insurance paid by qualified homebuyers
- Down payment assistance (DPA) programs
- Help with closing costs, such as the programs administered by the Military Housing Assistance Fund.
Various state programs help veterans with housing-related costs. For example, the Texas Veteran's Land Board supplies low-interest property, residential and home improvement loans that require little or no down payment. The home loan program also offers an interest rate reduction to qualifying veterans with a disability. Separately, the Pen-Fed foundation offers grants to veterans who are also first-time homebuyers.
Where should you look to find help to buy or build your home? One of the best resources available is the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban development (HUD). Its State Pages provide comprehensive lists of housing agencies and charitable programs, including those set up for veterans and military families. That's where you'll find programs like CalVet, a California program offering below-market interest rates to qualified veterans.
Which States Offer the Most Help for Veterans?
Some states are more generous than others when it comes to assistance and benefits for military members and their families. The VA reports estimated spending for major VA programs at the state, county, and Congressional district levels and indicates the veteran population of each state.
Biggest Spenders on Veterans' Programs per Veteran
- New Jersey (New Jersey's spending per veteran is about 20 times that of Washington, DC.)
Smallest Spenders on Veterans' Programs per Veteran
- District of Columbia
- Puerto Rico
- West Virginia
VA Rental Assistance
If you're not a homeowner or in a position to become one you may be able to find rental assistance. The VA and other government and charitable agencies offer a wide variety of programs for disabled and able-bodied veterans who need help.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and VA Supportive Housing Program (HUD-VASH) offers rent subsidies. The amount of the subsidy is paid directly to the landlord, and the veteran pays the difference. In addition, the HUD-VASH program supplies other supportive services to women veterans, veterans who have recently returned from combat zones and veterans with disabilities.
VA Emergency Housing Assistance
The VA's 25 Cities Initiative, which was designed to end veteran homelessness in many large cities, has spawned efforts across the country. Bonuses and incentives are provided to landlords to offer rentals to veterans, and to brokers who connect veterans with subsidized housing projects like Section 8. Participants in the 25 Cities Initiative include Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Fresno, Honolulu, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York City, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland, Riverside, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Tampa, Tucson, and Washington, DC.
Other programs provide temporary or transitional housing (up to 24 months) at VA-supported facilities. Most of the VA's help to homeless or at-risk veterans actually comes directly from other sources, like state and local agencies and charitable organizations. The VA coordinates their efforts, helps them fund their projects with grants, and assists veterans in finding the programs best-suited to help them. The VA addresses homelessness on three fronts:
- Community outreach programs seek out veterans who need help.
- Staff connect homeless and at-risk veterans with housing programs, health care, job placement and other services.
- The VA coordinates with federal, state and local agencies, housing providers, employers and charitable nonprofits to increase employment and affordable housing options for veterans to help them become self-supporting.
How do I apply for rental or emergency housing assistance?
If you're a homeless or at-risk veteran, or trying to help someone who is, your first step should probably be contacting the VA. You can visit or call your local VA Medical Center, which is staffed with trained coordinators to help you find the help you need. You can also call 1-877-4AID-VET (1-877-424-3838) to access VA coordinators who can match you up with service providers who can help you. The service is free and confidential. You can call for yourself or for someone else, and the lines are staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. When you make the call, you're connected to a trained VA staff member, who will ask you a few questions and assess your needs. If you're homeless, you'll be connected to the nearest facility for help. If you're a friend or family member, you'll be provided with information about available homeless and mental health programs for your veteran.
The table below lists some of the larger national providers of veterans' service, how to contact them, and what they provide.
|Army Emergency Relief||200 Stovall Street, Alexandria, VA 22332||1-866-878-6378 http://www.aerhq.org||Food, rent, utilities, transportation, vehicle repair, funeral expenses, medical or dental expenses|
|Coalition to Salute America's Heroes||2 Church Street, Suite 101, Ossining, NY 10562||1-888-447-2588 https://saluteheroes.org||Mortgage/rent, home repairs, utilities, vehicle payments, deposits, repairs, gasoline, food, baby formula, household supplies, air travel and lodging, school supplies and clothing, medical expenses|
|National Association of American Veterans||P.O. Box 6865 Washington DC 20020||202-465-3296 www.naavets.org||Rent/mortgage assistance, home repair, vehicle repair, medical expenses, transportation expenses|
|Navy-Marine Corps Relief||875 North Randolph Street, Suite 225, Arlington, VA 22203||703-696-4904 www.nmcrs.org||Interest-free loans, grants, transportation, funeral expenses, medical/dental expenses, food, rent, utilities, disaster relief assistance, child care expenses, vehicle repair, scholarships|
|Operation Family Fund||P.O. Box 837 Ridgecrest, CA 93556||760-793-0053 www.operationfamilyfund.org||Food, rent, utilities, transportation, vehicle repair, funeral expenses, legal, medical, dental expenses, home repairs, purchase and rental or leasing of a vehicle|
|Unmet Needs (VFW)||406 West 34th Street, Kansas City, MO 64111||866-789-6333 http://www.vfw.org/UnmetNeeds/||Housing: mortgage, rent, repairs Vehicle: payments, repairs Food, clothing Children: clothing, diapers, formula, school/childcare expenses, medical expenses Active Duty Military Personnel, Veterans and their Families|
Housing Assistance for Disabled Veterans
The VA offers several types of housing assistance to disabled veterans. Adaptive housing grants allow you to buy, build or modify a home to accommodate your service-related disability. Disabled veterans who apply for VA-backed mortgages can get their funding fees waived. In addition, there is rental assistance for those who do not own or wish to own their homes.
- Loss of or loss of use of both legs
- Loss of or loss of use of both arms
- Blindness in both eyes having only light perception PLUS loss of or loss of use of one leg
- Loss of or loss of use of one lower leg together with residuals of organic disease or injury
- Loss of or loss of use of one leg together with the loss of or loss of use of one arm
- Certain severe burns
- Certain severe respiratory injuries
- Blindness in both eyes with 5/200 visual acuity or less
- Loss of or loss of use of both hands
Some organizations offer grants to help disabled veterans cover rent or mortgage payments. These are transitional funds, not permanent subsidies. The goal is to provide emergency help and prevent veterans from becoming trapped in the cycle of payday loans, or from being evicted.
In addition, the HUD-VASH program provides housing choice vouchers, which allow recipients to rent any housing that meets the requirements of the program — not just those located in subsidized housing projects.
How do I apply?
The Veterans Service Center (VSC) is responsible for determining eligibility for SAH and the SHA grants. To apply for a grant, contact your nearest VSC. The physicians there will examine you and your medical and service records and make the determination. You can find additional resources at the VA's Adapted Housing page.
How Does Housing for Disabled Veterans Really Work? A Story
Heraclio Kiki "Junior" Aguilar served in the Army and National Guards from 2000 to 2007. He is a combat veteran who receives rent subsidies through HUD-VASH, backed by VA and Los Angeles Housing. Junior shares his story and describes the process of applying for the program
"When I became eligible for the program initially five years ago, I had to give the VASH personnel proof of income. At the time I was rated 60 percent disabled from service connected injuries." Junior also had to prove that he was on record for being homeless on three separate occasions and demonstrate willingness to participate in programs the VA felt he would benefit from.
"I was living at Volunteers of America," he says, "And the social worker that represented the VA clients at the Hollywood facility took my paperwork and submitted it for me. I thought there was not a very good chance of being accepted; there were reports that funds for the VASH program were getting low. A few months had passed before I had received the official word that I had been accepted to begin the next step in securing a VASH housing voucher."
Junior says it took nearly six months to receive a housing voucher. At that point he was given six months to find a place to live that met the program's guidelines.
The program requires ongoing input from Junior and from staff. "It felt like hell when initially going through the steps, but now in the long run I feel that there are the benefits and drawbacks. A benefit is that with the money I save. I was able to create a business from my apartment and they are totally fine with it. But one of the drawbacks is once a month a social worker from PATH (People Assisting the Homeless) has to come to my place to see how I am doing, and once a year HUD has to come and inspect the place," he says.
Adaptive Housing Grants & How to Apply for Them
The VA offers two kinds of grants for eligible disabled veterans: the Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) grant and the Special Housing Adaptation (SHA) grant. They are similar, with the main difference being that the SHA grant can be used for a home in which the veteran lives but does not own.
Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) Grant
- Construct a specially adapted home on a new lot
- Build specially adapted housing on land already owned
- Remodel an existing home for specially adapted housing
- Apply the grant against the unpaid principal mortgage balance of an adapted home already acquired without the assistance of a VA grant
SAH grants help veterans with qualifying service-connected disabilities (see above) to live in their own homes outfitted with accessibility features. SAH grants can be used to:
The maximum SAH grant is $70,465.
How Do I Apply?
You can apply online at the Veteran's portal at www.ebenefits.va.gov or by completing VA Form 26-4555 and submitting it to your local VA Regional Loan Center.
Special Housing Adaptation (SHA) Grant
- Adapting the home in which you currently live (whether owned by you or a family member)
- Adapting a home to be purchased by you or a family member with whom you'll live
- Purchasing an already-adapted home
SHA grants help veterans with qualifying service-connected disabilities adapt or purchase homes to help them live with their disability. SHA grants can be used for:
Temporary Residence Assistance (TRA) Grants
A temporary grant may be awarded to SAH/SHA eligible veterans and service members who temporarily live (or plan to live) in a home owned by a family member. The maximum amount of grants for an SAH-eligible applicants is $30,934 and for the SHA grant is $5,523.
How Do I Apply?
To apply for any of these programs, complete VA Form 26-4555, Veterans Application in Acquiring Specially Adapted Housing or Special Home Adaptation Grant, and submit it to your local VA Regional Loan Center. Alternatively, you can apply online.
Veteran Home Care Assistance
Veterans who need help caring for themselves maybe able to receive in-home care through the VA as part of their medical benefits. The Home-based Primary Care (HBPC) program offers at-home visits by a primary care doctor, nurse practitioner or physician's assistant. Other services offered include physical, occupational, or speech therapy; mental health services; nutrition counseling and help managing your medicines.
Home health care is part of the standard VA medical package, which means all enrolled veterans are eligible for HBPC if it's medically necessary and available where they live. A co-payment for Home Based Primary Care may be charged — the amount depends on your VA service-connected disability status and financial resources.
To find out what your co-payments would be, you can contact your local VA medical center. Social workers there can walk you through the application for Extended Care Benefits (VA Form 10-10EC), which is used to determine what your co-payment would be. Not everyone is required to complete this form — the following veterans are automatically eligible and no co-payment is required:
- A veteran compensable with a service-connected disability.
- A veteran whose annual income is less than the Single Veteran Pension Rate
- A veteran receiving care for a service-connected disability as determined by a VA health care provider and documented in the medical records.
- A veteran receiving extended care services that began on or before November 30, 1999.
- A veteran receiving extended care services related to Vietnam-era herbicide-exposure, radiation/exposure, Persian Gulf War and post-Persian Gulf War combat-exposure.
- A veteran receiving extended care services related to treatment for military sexual trauma as authorized under 38 U.S.C. 1720D.
- A veteran receiving extended care services related to certain care or services for cancer of the head or neck as authorized under 38 U.S.C. 1720E.
Transitioning to a Permanent Home: Questions & Answers
Tramecia Garner, director of residential programs at Swords to Plowshares, a community-based veterans' service nonprofit, offers these insights based on her experience working with vets and their families.
How difficult is it to get approved for rent subsidies?
Nonprofit organizations like Swords to Plowshares can assist veterans with going through the paperwork step-by-step to ensure their needs will be met. For rent subsidies, the real obstacles are the amount of housing stock available in each location and the number of housing vouchers available. In addition, it depends on which facilities and landlords will accept them.
How about transitional and temporary housing?
Interested veterans need to meet minimal qualifications as dictated by the program. Most of them offer housing for up to two years with the goal of exiting to permanent housing. These are great for people who may have significant barriers to accessing permanent housing and returning to the workforce. There are case managers on-site who can assist veterans in cleaning up wreckage, helping with legal matters, applying for entitlement benefits, and prior evictions. They also support veterans in finding affordable permanent housing.
Do the programs run out of money?
Housing programs are fully funded by the VA, and the VA grants a certain amount of money annually to housing homeless veterans. Examples of their programs include HUD-VASH, Grant-Per-Diem (GPD), and Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF).
What records does a homeless or at-risk veteran need to apply for help?
Their DD214 (Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty,) a state-issued ID and a Social Security card. If these items are lacking, an organization like Swords to Plowshares can help veterans access them.
Where can I find the income-eligibility guidelines for these programs?
Income eligibility guidelines vary from program to program. Try visiting VA.gov/homeless/housing.asp. It's best to work with a case manager at a service organization like Swords to Plowshares to determine your eligibility. For the VASH programs, the total household income must not exceed 50 percent of the Area Median Income. (Currently, this limit is $25,750 for a one-person household and $36,750 for a household of four people. A complete listing of the very low income limits can be found under the heading "HUD Program Income Limits" on HUD's website).
What about VA mortgages?
Veterans and active-duty service members who are in a position to purchase a home also get help from the VA. VA home loans are widely available and highly affordable. Vets can buy homes with zero down and no mortgage insurance (there is a funding fee, which can also be financed).
Why are there so many homeless veterans despite the best efforts of the VA?
It takes a long time to undo a lack of care for veterans that goes back at least 30 years. In addition, the needs of post-9/11 veterans are very different from those of Vietnam-era and older. It takes a multi-faceted approach to address all the needs of former service members. One-size-fits-all is not an approach that works.
What is the biggest misconception about veteran housing?
The biggest misconception is that veterans make unstable or unreliable tenants. The fact is that veterans appreciate structure and stability just like anyone else. We all enjoy housing stability in our lives.
Buying a Home With a VA Loan: FAQs
Dan Green, loan officer at Waterstone Mortgage and author of The Mortgage Reports, answers some common VA mortgage questions.
What are the eligibility requirements for a VA loan?
In addition to service requirements, VA borrowers are required to meet certain income and credit standards; and to have a valid Certificate of Eligibility (COE). Exceptions can be made for hardship and service-connected disabilities, though, so, when in doubt, apply for VA loan benefits.
What is the VA loan limit? How much can I borrow?
There is no "VA loan limit," per se — you can borrow as much as you'd like. However, because VA loan guidelines enforce a maximum debt-to-income ratio (DTI) for all approved loans, your maximum loan size will be capped by household income and your debts. (For instance, many lenders cap VA loans at $417,000 for zero-down loans, and require down payments of 25 percent of amounts over $417,000. So if you want to buy a $517,000 property, you'd have to put up $25,000, which is 25 percent of the $100,000 difference. This is not a VA requirement, however.)
Does my Certificate of Eligibility (COE) mean I'm approved for VA financing?
The Certificate of Eligibility shows lenders that you're eligible for VA-backed financing — nothing more. To get approved, you're still required to meet mortgage loan guidelines, which include verification of income, assets, and credit.
The notable exception here is for VA Streamline Refinance applications. Most verifications — including evidence of a COE — are waived for the VA Streamline Refinance.
Housing Support for Veterans: Questions and Answers
There are thousands of veterans who are homeless or in danger of becoming homeless. The Supportive Services for Veteran Families program (SSVF) offers help for these veterans. John Kuhn, the national director of the program, explains the many ways SSVF helps veterans and their loved ones.
What is SSVF?
SSVF is designed to rapidly re-house homeless Veteran families and prevent homelessness for those at imminent risk due to a housing crisis. Authorized by Section 604 of the Veterans' Mental Health and Other Care Improvements Act of 2008, it works with community non-profits to deliver these services, providing funding through a nationally competitive grant process. SSVF's employs a Housing First model, an approach that centers on providing homeless Veterans with permanent housing quickly and then providing VA health care, benefits and services as needed.
All grantees provide a broad range of services through the grant. Grantees are required to provide outreach, case management, assistance in obtaining VA benefits, and providing or coordinating efforts to obtain needed entitlements and other community services. In addition, grantees must secure a broad range of other services for participants:
- Legal assistance
- Credit counseling
- Housing counseling
- Assisting participants in understanding leases
- Securing utilities
- Making moving arrangements
- Providing representative payee services concerning rent and utilities when needed
- Mediation and outreach to property owners related to locating or retaining housing
Grantees also offer temporary financial assistance (TFA) that provides short-term assistance with rent, moving expenses, security and utility deposits, child care, transportation, utility costs, and emergency expenses.
Who is eligible?
There are several criteria that applicants must meet:
- The head of the household applying for help must be a veteran.
- Applicant must have "very low" household income (can't exceed 50 percent of area median income).
- Applicant must be either homeless after leaving a permanent home, in permanent housing but in danger of becoming homeless, or currently homeless but scheduled to enter permanent housing in the next 90 days.
It's important to understand, says Kuhn, that homeless and at-risk veterans may be eligible for SSVF services even if they do not qualify for other programs offered by local VA Medical Centers.
What is the biggest misunderstanding about SSVF?
One of the biggest misunderstandings, says Kuhn, is that the services are only for veterans. They're also for their families (the "F" in SSVF stands for "Families"). Generally, VA programs can only serve the veteran. One of the particularly attractive components of SSVF is that it provides services to the entire family, not just the veteran, helping the family stay together. Just like the veteran, family members can receive a range of services that will support housing stability including being linked to medical aid, child care, benefits, credit and help with disabilities.
How difficult is it to get temporary or transitional housing?
While waiting for permanent housing placement, Veterans should find emergency and transitional housing widely available through the VA's Grant and Per Diem (GPD) and Health Care for Homeless Veterans (HCHV) programs, says Kuhn. These programs provide an important safety net for Veterans while they await placement in permanent housing. For assistance, Veterans can contact their local VA Medical Center or call the homeless hotline at 1-877-4AIDVET (1-877-424-3838).
Do these programs ever run out of money?
The combined demand for prevention (for those at-risk) and those currently homeless, says Kuhn, is greater than available resources. That's why veterans are "triaged" when they enter the system, so that those with the most urgent needs are taken care of first. Organizations providing aid must manage their resources carefully, and there are times that homelessness prevention must take a back seat to rapid re-housing. The SSVF works closely with communities to make sure aid is deployed to those with the greatest need. It's those local organizations that know where the demand is greatest, so they are "highly engaged." "Ultimately," Kuhn says, "The community has to own the programs."
What documents do vets need to apply for aid?
Homeless veterans are unlikely to be carrying around their DD-214 (discharge) or other paperwork. To assess eligibility, Veterans should seek assistance from a SSVF grantee of a VA Medical Center. Local community organization can also access SQUARES, the VA's Status Query and Response Exchange System, to help determine if a homeless person is a veteran (though SQUARES does not confirm program eligibility).