This article originally appeared in the Shopper News on July 8, 2015.Eight years ago, Dewey Snapp was a homeless veteran living under a bridge in Knoxville. This month, thanks to assistance from Veterans Affairs and Knoxville’s Community Development Corporation, the 65-year-old Snapp became the first veteran in East Tennessee to achieve home ownership through the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) voucher program.
“If I hadn’t had this help, I wouldn’t even be alive today,” Snapp said. “I’m tickled to have my own house and have my freedom. My story proves that if you watch your p’s and q’s and you apply yourself a little bit, you can make something out of nothing.”
Snapp took advantage of a voucher program via Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) to earn the keys to his new East Knoxville home.
Snapp is originally from Sevier County and served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1965 to 1971, including a tour in Vietnam. After he left the military, Snapp became a master electrician and worked in construction across the country.
“About eight years ago, I lost everything I had before, and I had nothing,” Snapp said. “I was nearly dead when I was in that situation.”
While recuperating from cancer treatment, Snapp ended up on the street. He found a temporary placement for six months at Samaritan Place, a shelter for homeless seniors run through Catholic Charities of East Tennessee. At a local Veterans Affairs (VA) meeting, Snapp heard about VASH, a subsidized rental assistance program that provides Section 8 Housing Choice vouchers to homeless veterans.
“When President Obama first became president, I heard him give a speech that promised no homeless veterans,” Snapp said. “I got lucky, and I was the fourth person to sign up for a VASH voucher in Knoxville.”
In 2010, Snapp received his voucher and moved into an apartment. The VASH program is a priority for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the Obama administration issued a challenge to end veteran homelessness by the end of 2015. Since 2010, veteran homelessness has been reduced by 24 percent. More than 69,000 vouchers have been awarded nationwide, including 140 in Knoxville.
“One of the goals of the Knoxville’s Plan to Address Homelessness is to support KCDC and the VA’s efforts to apply for and receive vouchers to house homeless veterans,” said KCDC Executive Director and CEO Art Cate. “We recently received word that our application for 30 more vouchers has been approved. These vouchers will help us join with our national partners to do our part to eliminate veteran homelessness across the country.”
In 2011, Snapp began working with Knoxville’s Community Development Corporation (KCDC) to move toward becoming “mortgage-ready.”
The Section 8 Home Ownership program, managed locally by KCDC, allows participants to use vouchers to supplement payments toward a 15- to 30-year mortgage. The participants must have had a Section 8 rental voucher for at least one year; be employed for at least one year at a qualifying income-level or on disability; not in debt with a housing agency; complete HUD-certified homebuyer education; and have a good credit score and adequate savings.
Snapp completed a four-class Financial Fitness Education series and one-day Homebuyer Education course through HomeSource East Tennessee to qualify for the program. At the beginning, Snapp had virtually no credit and spent four years establishing credit and saving money.
“I’m very proud of Dewey becoming the first VASH voucher holder to become a homeowner in East Tennessee,” said Jennifer Bell, Section 8 homeownership coordinator at KCDC. “He knew what he wanted and what needed to be done. Getting in a financial position to purchase a home can take time, and Dewey stuck with it and accomplished it in under five years.”
The Section 8 Homeownership voucher helps pay a portion of Snapp’s mortgage, while all maintenance and utility costs are Snapp’s responsibility. When presenting Snapp with the keys to his home, KCDC also gave Dewey a gift card to Home Depot for $50. Snapp said he will complete maintenance and upgrades on the home using his experience in construction and electrical work. He wants to plant a garden in the backyard and expand his lawnmower repair business.
“Dewey has promised me tomatoes from his garden next year, and I’m excited for that,” Bell said. “We were delighted to help Dewey achieve his goals and become more self-sufficient. KCDC will continue to work with Dewey as he pays off his mortgage and make sure he has the tools to manage his new home.”