More Housing on the Way for Haverhill, Methuen Veterans

Veterans Northeast Outreach Center Executive Director John Ratka addressed veterans during a Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce breakfast on Nov. 9, 2018. (WHAV News photograph)

Veterans Northeast Outreach Center Executive Director John Ratka addressed veterans during a Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce breakfast on Nov. 9, 2018. (WHAV News photograph)

The Haverhill-based Veterans Northeast Outreach Center is preparing to put the finishing touches on more than 50 units of housing veterans in and around the Merrimack Valley can call home. John Ratka, a 26-year Naval officer who serves as VNOC’s executive director, said last week that the veteran services agency recently closed on the former Gerson furniture building on Haverhill’s Washington Street, getting one step closer to turning the long-vacant property into 44 housing units for veterans and their families.

Architect's rendering of Gerson's, 181 Washington St.

Additional properties have been purchased in Methuen, Lawrence and Newburyport, Ratka revealed during a Nov. 9 Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce pre-Veterans Day breakfast in downtown Haverhill.

Ratka’s organization owns and operates 200 units of housing, but the number is never enough to fully serve those vets in the Merrimack Valley.

“We’re doing it because veterans are homeless. We need to prevent this homelessness. We think we have it under control and we don’t have it under control,” the former armed forces member said.

Plans to transition the old furniture building at 181 Washington St. first began in 2017 when Gov. Charlie Baker included the property as one of those to receive a state subsidy. At the time, Mayor James J. Fiorentini was in full support. “Our goal is no veterans should be homeless,” said the mayor. “Affordable housing for veterans is needed in our city and this development will assist us in providing a safe home for veterans.”

Veterans Northeast already operates a number of veterans housing complexes in Haverhill, including apartments on Reed, Temple and Beacon Streets.