A place to call home: Low-cost veteran community coming to Crane Hill

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From left to right are Ken Brown, Barry Willingham, Connie Jones, Irv Jones, Damon Monk and Willie J. Fields at the groundbreaking for Connie’s Cottages, a low-cost veteran community in Crane Hill. (Christy Perry for The Cullman Tribune)

CRANE HILL, Ala. – The Crane Hill community will soon be home to an 11-cottage development for veterans. A groundbreaking ceremony for the new low-cost veteran community took place Friday at the project site along County Road 949.

The development, named Connie’s Cottages, was the idea of Irv Jones and a gift to his wife, Connie, a four-time breast cancer survivor. They traveled from their home in San Francisco to attend the ceremony on the peaceful lakefront property.

Also in attendance were Cullman County Revenue Commissioner Barry Willingham, Program Coordinator for the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs Willie J. Fields, contractor Damon Monk and local veteran Ken Brown.

Jones explained the origin of his vision, saying, “I’m from a faith-based perspective and I was watching some faith-based programming about two years ago. It was an organization out of South Carolina that was partnering with the Dream Center in Los Angeles. Observing that programing, they were introducing the fact that there were veterans either coming out of the theater or out of the military all together and they were having difficulty finding affordable housing. Their perspective was to reach out and be a supportive arm.”

Jones originally focused on the needs of female veterans, but after consulting with Fields from the VA Hospital in Birmingham, decided to broaden his scope to include all veterans.

“We want to assist whomever we can, either males or females, coming out of the military that are in search of affordable housing,” he said.

Jones said he also saw a program in Tennessee where cottages were being built for those who had fallen on hard times, so he thought a cottage community for veterans would be a great idea.

“I asked, ‘How can Connie and I do our little part in a small part of the world to help people in need?’”

He was introduced to the Cullman area during the purchase of an airplane and met several people, including Monk. With Monk’s help, the two found the land Jones needed to make his dream a reality.

“It seemed like a good fit!” he smiled.

The cottages will be built on approximately 5 acres of land with 75 feet of waterfront on Smith Lake.

Jones said, “Let’s just get it done! That’s my perspective. Let’s get it done for our men and women who have left a part of them out there and are coming home and finding some difficulty in finding affordable housing. Whatever role Connie and I can play in that endeavor, that’s what we want to achieve. Faith-based scripture says, ‘Do not despise small beginnings.’ You gotta start somewhere!”

Jones is financing the project himself and hopes to sit down with the VA and other local veteran groups to best determine the requirements that will be put in place for those applying for a cottage. Fields confirmed that the VA will act as a referral for veterans.

Monk told guests, “All the houses will be approximately 760 square feet. Mr. Fields asked us to build some with two bedrooms, so we will consider that. Right now, the plans are for them to all be one-bedroom. There should be seven on this end of the property and five to six on the other end of the property. We should start pouring concrete this coming week and start putting the houses up.”

“Since 2008, the VA has embarked on a mission to end homelessness among veterans, and in order to do that housing is the key component,” Fields said. “What Irv is trying to do, what I told him I could commit to, is get the word out. Sometimes all you have to do is tell one veteran that and the word will spread. If we are going to have a chance of ending homelessness, we have to have affordable housing and a place they can thrive in. This area is conducive for that. It is tranquil.”

Jones looks forward to the ribbon cutting for this project. He is also considering a second home on Smith Lake for him and Connie in the future. Right now, their main goal is to have the first cottage completed in the next two months.

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