Robert Lerman, an economics professor at American University, has developed a proposal to help veterans overcome employment and housing obstacles: a construction apprenticeship program that would train veterans to rehabilitate homes, while also helping them purchase those homes. I recently spoke with Lerman, who is also a fellow at the Urban Institute, about this idea. Our exchange has been edited and condensed.
(Denis Carrier)Could you explain your idea? The basic idea is to design a program that would renovate homes in communities where the cost of buying is especially low compared with the cost of renting and to utilize veterans as apprentices on the construction of the homes. The veterans would earn residential-construction credentials while at the same time renovating the homes. And then the program would also have a mechanism for selling the homes, either to veterans or to others using mortgage programs. The proceeds from those sales could then be used as working capital for the next set of homes.
What specific problem does this solve? Veterans are often confronted with housing and employment problems, and meanwhile, there are hundreds of vacant housing units in several cities. So this helps to solve the problem of vacant and deteriorating homes, while offering a high-quality apprenticeship to veterans. And it's also addressing the problems of high rents and housing burdens on large numbers of lower- and middle-income families, a group that includes many veterans. I'm trying to conceive of both the supply and the demand sides of this issue. And I'm also looking to create a sustained effort: As units are sold, you get working capital for subsequent units.