Tuesday, June 11, 2013

VETS 3 | VA Loans–NYC Issues

Veterans mostly leave the armed forces after a few years' service. They return home, get married or have (more) children, and they look for a house. 

The Veterans Administration (VA) Loan program was created for them during the World War II years and helped create the post-WWII housing–and baby–boom. 

The program has helped more than 18 million veterans become homeowners. It was designed to provide financing for either the purchase or the renovation (or both) of a home owned by veterans and their spouses. 

The unique features of the VA program are that a veteran can purchase a home with no money down and almost no out-of-pocket costs. 

The loans are made by private lenders and are guaranteed by the VA. Veterans can ordinarily borrow up to $417,000, with a higher amount in pricey communities - up to $723,000 in New York City. The advantage for a veteran is that the guarantee by the VA makes possible a zero-down-payment mortgage without paying the private mortgage insurance that would be required on a mortgage loan with less than a 20 percent down payment.

This is a very attractive program. Yet with 24 million veterans in the USA today, the 18 million users of the VA loan program over 69 years implies a relatively low usage of the program. The problems may be:
  • Lack of knowledge of its existence (some lenders don't promote it),
  • Lack of appreciation of its value.
  • Legal and other obstacles in urban areas.
The New York City Case

While it is fairly easy for veterans to get a VA loan on a house, it turns out to be extremely difficult to secure a VA loan on an apartment, which are mostly condominiums or co-operatives in New York City, to allow for multiple owners of a single building. 

In order to buy a condo apartment with a VA loan, the building that contains the condo must be approved by the VA in a process that is unfamiliar to most real estate agents. 

The building in which the condo is located must get VA approval. Few condo projects have VA approval. For example, Alex Hecht of Warrior Family Foundation today (June 11, 2013) searched each of the five boroughs of New York City using the VA's own online condo search tool and found only 30 VA- approved condo complexes in the entire city - a city in which 50 percent of all the housing units are apartments, the highest ratio in the country (in Los Angeles it is 42 per cent and in Washington, DC it is 41 percent).

Moreover, under the current rules, apartments in housing cooperatives are not eligible for VA loans at all. Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney, who represents the Upper West Side of Manhattan and parts of Western Queens, has introduced a bill that would give the VA authority to guarantee loans on co-ops, an obvious first step in solving the urban VA loans problem.

These obstacles affect not only veterans looking to buy in dense urban centers like New York City, where most housing units for sale are condos or co-ops. They also impact vets in smaller cities and suburbs around the country who are considering apartments as a cost-saving alternative to stand-alone homes.

The New York Times, in a story today by Elizabeth A. Harris, shows the plight of Joe Vollono, a graduate of the Oxford University MBA program, and his wife Monica Raquel Ortiz, a former State Department staffer for ten years. Mr. Vollono served in the Navy submarine force for four years and qualifies for a VA loan. He was ready to sign papers in January but is still waiting for the loan.

Advantages of a VA Loan

Nevertheless, the VA loan guarantee program remains a very attractive option for veterans looking to buy a house or even a condo. Here are some of the features:
  • No down payment is required to buy the property.
  • The VA will guarantee up to 103.5 percent of the loan if it falls within the maximum loan limits of the area (the 3.5 percent is for the fee), i.e., $723,000.
  • Mortgage insurance is not necessary even though no down payment is required.
  • The interest rates are competitive with other loans.
  • No funding fee needs to be paid out by a disabled veteran.
  • Some of the lenders fees are limited, for example a bank can only charge a 1 percent origination fee.
  • In a cash-out refinance, the refinance can be for 100 per cent of the value of the home.
  • For new manufactured homes, the builder must give the purchasing veteran a one-year guarantee that the home has been constructed to VA-approved plans and specifications.
  • The borrower is allowed to prepay part or all of the loan without a prepayment penalty.
  • If a veteran homeowner is having issues paying his or her mortgage due to temporary financial difficulties, the VA will assist with personal loan servicing and financial counseling.
Active military members are also eligible for VA loans.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

VET STORY 1 | Sgt. Tom Collins at Bletchley Park (Comment, Jan. 2, 2015)

Collins - Back of Jacket
Sgt. Tom Collins of East Hampton, NY, in his
proudly worn VFW jacket and his Bletchley
 Park cap, inscribed with his WW2 nickname,
"Sam Scram". Photo by JTMarlin.
Sgt. Thomas L. Collins, a lifetime resident of East Hampton, served in 1944-1945 in England. Not until 2010 did he receive official recognition of his contribution to the World War II effort.

He was honored by both the British and the American Governments in that year, just before he died. Sgt. Collins was the sole technician to bring the top-secret Dragon 1 Cryptography Machine to Bletchley Park (the other two people in the plane were the pilots), Britain's cryptography center.

He trained British cryptographers and technicians how to use the Dragon 1, and stayed to take care of it and make sure it did its cryptographic job. Since his mission was top secret, he couldn't talk about it until the 1990s. 

Tom Collins w Bletchley Park cap
Left side of Sgt. Tom Collins's cap
and jacket. Photo by JTMarlin.
Now Bletchley Park is a public museum and Tom was able to talk about his mission - and be honored for it:
  • In July 2009, he was awarded a UK Certificate of Appreciation and Medal for his participation in the important Bletchley Park cryptography program. The medal and certificate arrived in March 2010.
  • Less than two months later, on the Friday before Memorial Day 2010, Congressman Timothy Bishop of New York's First District read into the Congressional Record a tribute to Sergeant Collins. It is reproduced below.
  • His role is fully described and appreciated in a 2015 book (p. 609) about the cryptography machines at Bletchley.
The "Sam Scram" nickname that Sgt. Collins's colleagues at Bletchley Park gave him came from an American character by that name on a popular wartime radio show.

Congressman Bishop's tribute was well-timed, as Sgt. Collins had the opportunity to be honored by his hometown Legion and VFW Post at the 2011 Memorial Day services.

Text of Rep. Bishop's Remarks
Cong Record May 28, 2010
Award by British PM Gordon Brown, 2009.
Photo by JT Marlin.
Photo of Tom Cillins w Bletchley Park Cap on
Sgt. Tom Collins, aka "Sam Scram". Photo by JT Marlin.

He did not live to see the next Memorial Day, 2011. He died of a heart attack on May 18 at his home on Springs Fireplace Road in East Hampton. He was remembered on Memorial Day 2011 by the Legion and the VFW.
The East Hampton Star obituary included the following:
Thomas Loudon Collins, a lifelong resident of East Hampton who was credited with helping to decode 143 Nazi messages during World War II, died of a heart attack on May 18 at home on Springs-Fireplace Road in Springs. He was 89 years old.
Representative Tim Bishop commended Mr. Collins’s wartime service on the floor of the House of Representatives last May, noting that he had received a medal and certificate of recognition from the British government for his service as a cryptologist.
Collins - medal
Medal as Presented in Box. Photo by
JT Marlin. 
Mr. Collins, who was trained as a cryptologist by the Army, was chosen to escort the Allies’ most advanced code-breaking machine, the Dragon, to the cryptography center at Bletchley Park in England. He subsequently was credited with designing the machine’s successor, which is said to have hastened the defeat of the Third Reich.
“So secret was his work, his invaluable contributions were not recognized and made public until the 1990s,” Mr. Bishop said. His remarks were entered into the Congressional Record.
After the war, Mr. Collins went to work for the Western Electric Company, retaining the position for almost 44 years. He also worked as a supervisor for Trees Inc. from 1983 to 1990.
Medal from the British Prime Minister to Sgt. Collins. honoring his hitherto-secret contribution to the Second World War.  Photo by JTMarlin.
Mr. Collins was born on June 28, 1921, to Frank deMar Collins and the former Nina Hulse. He grew up here and graduated from East Hampton High School. He was married to Anne E. Miller, who survives. The couple had three sons, Capt. Thomas L. Collins II, Michael deMar Collins, and Stephen T. Collins, all of whom survive. He also is survived by six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
In his spare time, Mr. Collins enjoyed hunting and fishing and barbershop singing. He was a member of the V.F.W., which honored him with a salute last Thursday, the Cryptographic Society, and the Springs Presbyterian Church. The Rev. Tony Larson and the Rev. George Wilson officiated at a funeral service at the church on Saturday. Burial followed at Cedar Lawn Cemetery in East Hampton.
             East Hampton Star, Obituary, May 26, 2011Time Traveler site, Bletchley Park page
             www.Boissevain.us siteTom Collins Honors page
             Congressman Tim Bishop's speech on the floor of the House, June 9, 2010
             ...and as printed in the Congressional Record, html version and pdf version
            (A pre-print of the Congressional Record was presented to Sgt. Collins at a ceremony in Springs.
            It was read out after the Memorial Day parade in East Hampton.) 
Collins - Memories of WWII
Sgt. Tom Collins's Reminiscences.

Comment (January 2, 2015)

The new movie, The Imitation Game, puts the 
focus of the Bletchley work on Alan Turing. It
is easy to forget all the people who played
a part in the success of the effort. One of them
was Tom Collins.

WWII Cryptography Center
Bletchley Park Cryptography Center
Sgt. Thomas L. Collins in uniform.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

VETS 2 | Pru's Programs

Prudential Financial's table at a veterans' job fair,
New Yorker Hotel, May 23, 2013. Photo by JT Marlin.
A veteran's getting hired shouldn't be a problem in a country with 27.3 million firms, right?

Well, 21.4 million of these firms are sole proprietorships with no employees.

That leaves 5.9 million firms, of which only 109,000 have more than 100 employees and only about 18,000 have more than 500 employees.

But of these 18,000 firms, how many are really eager to hire veterans? Also, how many of these firms are really appropriate for veterans to head for in expectation of a job?

One indicator is whether a company shows up at a veterans' job fair. I recently visited one in New York City and found that Newark-based Prudential Financial (Pru) had a booth there, one of maybe 25 firms seeking veterans for their payrolls.

Military Times recently examined 1,000 American companies to determine their openness to hiring veterans and providing support for them when they are hired. The publication reported on the top 53 companies and ranked Pru #27 (http://bit.ly/14V4bRQ).

Pru attained this high ranking because it has launched a variety of veterans’ initiatives:

  • The VETalent work-study program for veterans, in partnership with the nonprofit Workforce Opportunity Services, 
  • VETnet, a network of veteran employees of Prudential who can provide one another with mutual support and speak with a unified voice to the rest of the company and the outside community.
  • Philanthropic grants to veterans service organizations.
  • Original research on Veterans’ Employment Challenges, available here - and previously written up at this Blogspot (click or scroll down).
The strength of the company's veterans’ initiatives reflects Pru's commitment in assigning two senior employees to work exclusively on veterans’ affairs: 

  • Ray Weeks, VP for Veterans Initiatives, who manages the company's internal veterans programs, and
  • Steve Robinson, VP for External Veterans Affairs, who works on veterans' issues with outside organizations.

Pru hires veterans both because it's the right thing to do for those who have served and because it makes business sense. When asked not long ago how hiring veterans helps Pru as a company, Robinson said:
Veterans typically are the kind of people who - if you give them a mission and help them understand their role in its success - will go off and accomplish it without much supervision. Veterans are dedicated and have a demonstrated ability to work in arduous environments and take on complex tasks. The data also show that vets typically work harder, longer, don’t take as many sick days, and have the demonstrated ability to inculcate themselves into the culture and improve systems. 
For more on Pru's veterans initiatives, visit http://www.prudential.com/veterans.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

VETS 1 | Justice Outreach

Manhattan's Midtown Community Court, 314 West 54th Street
The Midtown Community Court on West 54th Street has since 1993 targeted quality-of-life misdemeanor offenses, such as prostitution, illegal vending, graffiti, shoplifting, fare-beating and vandalism. The court was designed to address the fact that in most courts judges are forced to choose between a few days of jail time and no sentence at all. 

The Midtown Community Court, instead, sentences misdemeanor offenders to pay back the neighborhood through community service, while at the same time offering help with problems that may underlie criminal behavior. Midtown's sanctions and services include  community restitution projects, short-term psychoeducational groups, and long-term services such as drug treatment, mental health treatment, and trauma-focused psychotherapy.

Starting in April 2013, the Court has been working with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (Veterans Justice Outreach program) to screen and pair defendants who served in the military with support programs. The first two offenders in the program attended a group-counseling session mandated by the court as part of their sentences for having committed misdemeanor offenses. Defendants that served in the military and plead guilty to their charges can avoid jail terms by attending counseling sessions, paying a fine or performing community service, or some combination of these or other programs. 

Elise White, deputy director for the Midtown Community Court says:
There's a high level of overlap between folks who have come back from some kind of combat and post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, substance abuse, other kinds of disorders, other kinds of cognitive impairment. The idea is that the veterans court has a really good working knowledge of these issues and can help connect veterans to the kinds of services that will assist them in reintegrating into civilian life.
The program has already been implemented in courts in Brooklyn and Houston, Texas, where a veterans court became the focus of a "60 Minutes" segment in October 2012. Officials at the Midtown Community Court, including Judge Felicia Mennin, have taken part in multiple training sessions that cover everything from military jargon to the effects of traumatic brain injury and military sexual assault. For example, screeners learned not to ask whether a defendant was a veteran, but instead inquire whether he or she had served in the military:
People in the Vietnam era would generally label themselves as veterans, whereas the veterans who return now are not necessarily thinking of themselves as veterans. Many veterans aren't aware of the array of services available to them. 
Read more: http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20130405/midtown/veterans-initiative-unveiled-at-midtown-community-court#ixzz2RDoc2AGU. Court phone number: 646-264-1300.