The Veterans Association of Real Estate Professionals has come a long way since its founding in 2011. However, its mission of sustainable home ownership for the military community hasn’t changed.
“The mission is very clear. We focus on successful home sustainability and financial literacy for the active and veteran communities,” said VAREP Associate Director Carla Lemon. “We took it upon ourselves to start educating the real estate industry with boots on the ground, and our chapters grew and they still grow today.”
Lemon spent five years volunteering and growing her local chapter before VAREP National asked her to bring her talents to its headquarters.
She says education has always been a priority for the organization, which has grown to include writing courses specific to the VA loan process. While they can’t specifically correlate their efforts to growth, the neighborhoods with strong chapters have seen significant increases in homebuyers using the loan.
“We have a national legislative committee, and they have been very active in the bills that we’ve passed on behalf of our active military and veterans for the VA loan benefit. One of those was the Blue Water Navy bill,” Lemon said.
The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 gave recognition, resources and medical support for those exposed to Agent Orange and also enacted sweeping legislative changes for the VA loan benefit. These changes included removing the home loan limit and the funding fee for active-duty Purple Heart recipients.
“One of the other bills we are almost done being successful with is URL –– the loan application borrowers use. We have fought to have a box inserted in the middle of or somewhere in the form which asks if you’ve served,” Lemon explained. “If they’ve served, then they are required to receive a side–by–side comparison of the VA loan, FHL loan and a conventional loan. They [lenders] can no longer steer a veteran away from their VA loan. They have to educate them about those differences so that it has been placed on the form.”
It’s a huge win. In 2016, VA estimated only 6% of the 21 million veterans had taken advantage of the VA loan benefit in the previous five years.
The organization has not only focused on education and legislative efforts on behalf of veterans, but grassroots giveback, too. VAREP Cares is a program built into each chapter that focuses on four events throughout the year that fundraise for and support veteran causes.
Its Stop, Drop and Push program works within the military suicide prevention space to raise money to fund things like travel, lodging and food for veterans to make it to the alternative therapies. The Calloway Closing Grant supports those with financial needs in covering the costs associated with closing on their home loan.
Lemon’s passion for serving the military community began with her father, a veteran soldier.
“It’s a privilege to be able to choose whatever you want to do in life and that choice comes from those who are willing to sign on the dotted line to sacrifice everything and anything so that we can keep our freedoms,” Lemon shared. “I feel very fortunate that I’m able to work every day to try and offer something in return for that.”
Visit https://varep.net/ for more information on VAREP.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Jessica Manfre serves at the director of community engagement for STL VAREP chapter.Read comments