Housing Support for Veterans: VA Mortgages, Benefits & Assistance
Many veterans will experience housing insecurities after leaving the military. About 19 million people are veterans in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reports veterans represent about 8% of the nation’s population that are experiencing homelessness. That would be about 1.5 million veterans who would be experiencing homelessness.
Most tend to think of the Department of Veterans Affairs when contemplating housing assistance for veterans. The VA is a great resource for service members and vets, but there are a host of additional resources which offer support.
Whether you are a renter, plan to buy a home or need housing assistance due to a disability, this guide can help you identify what type of mortgage help you may be able to receive.
Housing Benefits for Service Members, Veterans and Their Families
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers a variety of housing benefits to eligible veterans and service members, including VA home loans that don't require a down payment, housing grants for veterans with service-related disabilities and rental assistance for veterans in need.
A variety of resources can prevent homelessness for veterans and families at imminent risk due to a housing crisis. The following list offers a general overview of key resources that should be available regardless of where you live.
VA Mortgage Program
The VA mortgage program allows veterans and service members to buy a home with no down payment. VA mortgages generally have more favorable interest rates and more flexible qualification requirements than traditional mortgages, often making them an affordable option.
Down Payment Assistance Programs
States offer an array of housing-related benefits to eligible active duty personnel and veterans. Down payment assistance (DPA) programs are a strong option for first-time homebuyers.
Emergency Assistance Programs
All branches of the military offer emergency housing assistance. Many nonprofits, such as Army Emergency Relief, have also stepped up to provide mortgage or rental relief or temporary housing.
Adaptive Housing Assistance Grants
The federal government offers grants to help make homes more adaptable for vets who are disabled. There are also a number of nonprofits, like the Gary Sinise Foundation, which offer funding for home adaptations.
If you’re having trouble paying your mortgage, there are a variety of foreclosure prevention options, most of which will derive from the VA. VA loan centers are staffed with counselors to help you work through solutions, and you don’t need a VA loan to qualify.
MoneyGeek gathered addresses and phone numbers of VA centers across the U.S. Find your local or nearest VA location here.
How to Buy a Home With a VA Loan
While the VA doesn’t lend money to homebuyers, it guarantees loans made by private lenders to eligible borrowers. If you don’t meet minimum credit requirements, there’s no guarantee you’ll qualify. If you do qualify, you may save a significant chunk of change during the overall home buying process.
A VA loan is one of the best mortgage options available for service members, veterans and eligible spouses because there’s no down payment required. You’ll also score a low interest rate, have the option to avoid closing costs and steer clear of costly private mortgage insurance. Below are basic steps you should follow to secure a loan.
Apply for a VA home loan Certificate of Eligibility
To start, you’ll need to prove that you’re eligible for a VA loan. Gather the paperwork you’ll need depending on your status and apply through the online application to determine whether you qualify.
Examine your finances
Like all homebuyers, you’ll need to meet some basic requirements, including having good credit and a reputable credit history, to get approved for a VA loan.
Find a trustworthy lender
Most traditional mortgage lenders will work with veterans. But as with any loan lender, do your due diligence. Ask how long a company has processed VA loans and whether there is a lender appraisal process program.
Get a real estate agent
Real estate agents who have worked extensively with veterans can easily impart knowledge about VA loans and facilitate the home buying process.
Develop a list of home options
Once you have a solid idea of your financing arrangement, look in your desired area and develop a list of possible home options. From there, work with your real estate agent to come up with an offer for your top picks.
Close on your VA loan
The closing of a VA loan operates like any other mortgage — you and your real estate agent will meet with sellers. Then you’ll sign the paperwork, pay any closing fees and get the keys.
An Expert’s Take on Buying a Home With a VA Loan
We spoke with Dan Green, CEO of Homebuyer and author of The Mortgage Reports, to get his insight on VA loans. Green focuses specifically on first-time homebuyers and is dedicated to making sure future homeowners have every resource at their disposal.
Alternatives to Home Loans
VA loans have undeniable perks, but other mortgage options may work better for your budget. When it comes to financing a home for veterans, service members or eligible military families, the three main options to consider are USDA loans, FHA loans and conventional mortgages. Below is a breakdown of each.
USDA loans are similar to VA loans because they require no down payment and offer low interest options for qualified borrowers. You should consider this loan if you fall into a lower income bracket or are considering buying in a rural area. The best way to understand the USDA loan application process is to ask your realtor, who will be able to find out if you qualify to buy in the specific area you’re looking at.
For first-time homebuyers, FHA loans offer a wide range of benefits. Specifically, FHA loans may be a better option than VA loans because of less stringent credit requirements. FHA loans only require a credit score of 580, while VA loans often require scores in the mid 600s. In addition, FHA loans allow for a slightly higher debt-to-income ratio, so those with higher student loans stand a better chance of qualifying for an FHA loan.
If you can make a 20% down payment, you should consider going with a conventional loan. Putting 20% down will save you from paying for private mortgage insurance (PMI), and you’ll save thousands of dollars on interest. Paying no down payment with a VA or USDA loan may sound much easier, but it’ll cost you over the life of the loan.
Types of VA Housing Assistance and Support Options
Whether you’re looking for rental housing grants or adaptive housing, there are various forms of support for veterans at the local, state and federal levels. Many of the programs offer severely discounted rates or no down payment options, but you’ll also find elder care options, low-income options and more.
Various state programs help veterans with housing-related costs, and some states are more generous than others when it comes to providing assistance and benefits for military members and their families. For example, the Texas Veterans Land Board offers low-interest property, in addition to 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. Below are a few other programs.
- Community Living Centers: Across the country, there are over 100 VA-run nursing homes for older veterans. The centers offer activities for veterans of all ages and are intended to be inviting places for family members to visit.
- Down Payment Assistance (DPA) Programs: DPA programs vary from state to state, but most offer some form of assistance. Four basic types of down payment assistance include a down payment gift which is not repaid, a second mortgage paid alongside your main mortgage payment, a loan paid when you sell, refinance or stop using a home as your primary residence, and a forgivable loan.
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD): HUD’s state webpage provides comprehensive lists of housing agencies and charitable programs, including those set up for veterans and military families. Programs like CalVet in California offer below-market interest rates to qualified veterans.
- National Association of State Veterans Homes: State veteran homes are available throughout the country, with even rural states offering multiple home options. NASVH’s main goal is to promote better quality of care and life for veterans and their families.
- Semper FI & America’s Fund - Service Member and Family Support: The Semper Fi & America's Fund provides immediate assistance to those who have been wounded in combat. This program, which operates out of most VA hospitals around the country, is specifically designed for military members and their families. It also offers financial assistance for housing, as well as adaptive equipment, transportation help and more.
The federal government offers grants to eligible veterans to help them buy, build or adapt homes. Many are specifically tailored to veterans with disabilities, with some of the most popular federal programs listed below.
- Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem (GPD) Program: As of September 2021, the GPD program had $75 million available in funding for the acquisition or construction of GPD transitional housing. The program aims to improve the personal safety of veterans, reduce risks and increase the availability of individual transitional housing.
- Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) and Special Housing Adaptation (SHA) Grants: These programs for disabled veterans offer grants which can help assist in building, buying or fixing up an adapted home. The grants aim to help with severe service-connected disabilities.
- Home Improvements and Structural Alterations (HISA) Grant: The HISA grant is for disabled vets who currently own homes but need to make changes to live comfortably. The grants can be put towards improving entrances and exits in homes, improving bathroom facilities and making kitchens more accessible.
- Mortgage Credit Certificates (MCC) Program: The MCC program helps lower‐income families afford home ownership. Through the program, home buyers can claim a dollar‐for‐dollar tax credit for a portion of mortgage interest paid per year, up to $2,000.
- Temporary Residence Adaptation (TRA) Grant: TRA is a grant created to help disabled veterans lead more independent lives and have living situations which offer a higher level of comfort.
- HUD-VASH Grants: HUD-VASH grants offered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development are given to help vets in financial need to secure safe housing.
- Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF): Offered by the VA, this program helps prevent homelessness among the veteran population and assists vets looking to transition into full-time housing. The program is the first homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing program administered by VA.
To find local resources in your area, it’s best to start with your local VA. Your local VA can direct you to emergency housing, financial help, homeownership options and more.
- The VA's 25 Cities Initiative: The Initiative was designed to end veteran homelessness in many large cities and has since spawned efforts across the country. Bonuses and incentives are provided to landlords who offer rentals to veterans and brokers who connect veterans with subsidized housing projects like Section 8.
- Home-Based Primary Care (HBPC) Program: This program offers at-home visits by a primary care doctor, nurse practitioner or physician's assistant. This is often offered as part of the VA’s health care package, so check in with your local VA.
- StatesideLegal: For veterans who need legal help, including in housing matters, StatesideLegal can help you find and contact a local lawyer in your area. Legal representatives are well-versed in the needs of veterans.
- U.S. Vets: Those who live in D.C., Texas, or out West likely have a U.S. Vets office in their community. The mission of U.S. Vets is to help end homelessness for veterans by helping secure housing in shelters, transitional solutions and permanent homes.
A shortage of services and social isolation contribute to homelessness among veterans. Often started by veterans themselves, numerous nonprofits have helped thousands in need.
- Homes For Our Troops: HFOT is a nationwide organization dedicated to building specially adapted homes for soldiers who have been severely injured. Most of the veterans helped by the organization have sustained injuries, including multiple limb amputations, partial or full paralysis and/or severe traumatic brain injury (TBI).
- Building Homes for Heroes: This program builds or buys homes and gives them to eligible veterans and families. With more than 255 homes gifted to the nation’s injured veterans by the end of 2020, a new house has been offered every 11 days since the organization’s founding.
- Army Emergency Relief: This nonprofit can help Army veterans secure emergency assistance for mortgage or rental relief, in addition to temporary lodging. In 2019, AER provided $70 million in loans and grants to 40,000 Soldiers and Families.
- Coalition to Salute America's Heroes: The Coalition aims to help severely wounded veterans and families of Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn to recover from their injuries and illnesses. It also seeks to inspire organizations and the general public.
- National Association of American Veterans: The Association offers help with rent/mortgage assistance, funding for necessary home repairs and emergency expenses. It also offers helpful financial guidance and boasts the NAAV Military Family Program to ease the burdens of caregivers.
- Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) - Unmet Needs Program: The VFW offers grants for military families facing financial difficulties. All the info you’ll need to apply is neatly organized on the site’s homepage.
A Story From a Veteran With a Disability About the HUD-VASH Program
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 recently shared his story and described 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% disabled from service connected injuries," he said. 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 who 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 the voucher. At that point, he was given another six months to find a place to live that met the program's guidelines.
"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 said.
Expert Insight on Housing Support for Veterans
MoneyGeek spoke with professors, attorneys and others to provide expert insight into the best practices that veterans can implement to secure housing.
- How difficult is it for veterans to get temporary or transitional housing? Do these programs ever run out of money?
- What is the biggest misconception about veteran housing?
- Why are there so many homeless veterans despite the best efforts of the VA?
Litigation Attorney & Volunteer Veteran Benefit Appellate Attorney at Law Office of Gustavo Mayen
Assistant Professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) School of Social Work
Director of the Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center (Daniels Center)
Find Your Local VA Center
Use the table below to find your state and city, and then find the address and phone number for your nearest VA. You can also use the search bar. The VA can offer you state-specific resources and guidance on the benefits you’re entitled to, including VA loans, rental assistance and more.
1201 2nd Avenue South, Birmingham AL 35233
205-212-3122 or 877-927-8387
415 Church Street Bldg H ,Suite 101, Hunstville AL 35801
256-539-5775 or 877-927-8387
3221 Springhill Ave Bldg 2 ,Suite C, Mobile AL 36607
251-478-5906 or 877-927-8387
4405 Atlanta Highway, Montgomery AL 36109
334-273-7796 or 334-273-7796
4400 Business Park Blvd Suite B-34, Anchorage AK 99503
907-563-6966 or 907-563-6966
540 4th Ave Suite 100, Fairbanks AK 99701
907-456-4238 or 877-927-8387
43299 Kalifornsky Beach Rd Ste 4, Soldotna AK 99669
907-260-7640 or 877-927-8387
851 E. West Point Drive Suite 102, Wasilla AK 99654
907-376-4318 or 877-927-8387
Equator Building Ottoville Road, P.O. Box 982942, Pago Pago AS 96799
684-699-3760 or 877-927-8387
Navajo Route 7 Old BIA Complex-B59, Chinle AZ 86503
928-674-3682 or 877-927-8387
Additional Housing Resources for Veterans
Military families, active duty service members and veterans face many challenges when it comes to housing. Various resources and groups provide useful information that can help.
- Military.com: Military.com is a great general resource for current and former military members. Their benefits page is especially helpful in providing benefits-specific resources.
- VA Housing Assistance: The VA is the #1 place to look for veteran-related house services. The VA also has a long list of VA benefits, ranging from home loans to healthcare.
- Veterans Inc. Housing Programs: The Veterans Inc. organization seeks to end chronic homelessness among veterans. Housing offered through the organization comes with services including meals, an employment and training program, legal and medical advice and help for PTSD and substance abuse.
- Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America: This organization is dedicated to help vets who served specifically in the Iraq or Afghanistan wars understand their housing benefits and how to maintain them.
- USA.gov: Every state has a webpage dedicated to veteran assistance which can be beneficial in finding local housing programs in your area. The USA.gov site can help you find contact information for each state or territory.
- Wounded Warrior Project: WWP is one of the most well-known among veterans. The organization helps veterans who have been injured both in and out of combat in a variety of ways. The benefits page on the WWP website can direct you to services.
- PenFed Foundation & Disabled American Veterans – Emergency Financial Assistance: The Foundation offers financial assistance which can go towards rent, mortgage, utilities and more. All bills must be no more than 90 days past due to qualify, and the Foundation only supports one emergency financial request per household.
- GoFundMe: GoFundMe supports efforts to raise money for veterans in need of financial assistance. It also details federal, state and nonprofit programs with grants for disabled veterans trying to pay for medical bills.
- VetAssist: VetAssist offers a 0%, interest-free loan so home care can begin almost immediately for veterans in need. The loan can be reimbursed with funds from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
- Disabled Veterans National Foundation: The DVNF offers grants to various organizations, including those which are trying to combat veteran homelessness. To apply, simply fill out DVNF’s intake form, and the Foundation will connect with you.
About the Author
- U.S. Census Bureau. "Those Who Served: America's Veterans From World War II to the War on Terror." Accessed September 24, 2021.
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. "The 2020 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress." Accessed September 24, 2021.
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. "National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics." Accessed September 24, 2021.