In 1954, Congress passed a bill signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower declaring November 11 as Veterans Day, a day to honor military veterans of the United States Armed Forces. There are 16.2 million veterans in the U.S., according to the United States Census Bureau, representing 6.2% of the total civilian population over the age of 18.
For many veterans, civilian life comes with its own set of challenges; among them, finding housing. At Zillow Group, we are dedicated to doing what we can to help our nation’s veterans and active military achieve homeownership.
Fair housing for veterans
The Fair Housing Act (FHA), a federal law established as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, is designed to prevent discrimination in housing based on various protected characteristics, including race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status and disability. For instance, veterans with service-related disabilities may find coverage under the FHA. If a landlord discriminates against a tenant because they or their spouse is a disabled veteran or active-duty service member, it could be considered a violation of the FHA. While the Fair Housing Act does not specifically protect veterans, many state and local housing discrimination laws, such as the Washington State Law Against Discrimination, do provide protections for military and veteran status. These laws complement the FHA and offer more direct safeguards.
Zillow is committed to advancing policies and practices that support fair housing for all people. We have a history of directly advocating for fair housing at both state and national levels, and continue to work in coalition with government and fair housing stakeholders to protect veterans and low-income families from housing discrimination.
As of Aug 2023, approximately 109,000 Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) vouchers were allocated to veteran households for assistance paying rent, with nearly 80,000 units leased.
However, there are no federal protections to prevent individuals from being denied housing based on source of income. Instead, there are a patchwork of protections at state and local levels across the country. And many veterans and low-income families have reported discrimination from landlords when using vouchers to pay their rent in states and cities where there are no source of income protections. To help ensure veterans can continue to use their benefits to help pay for rent, Zillow has advocated for source of income laws across multiple states. To date, 21 states and Washington, D.C., have state-wide protections in place, however Zillow continues to advocate for other states to take action, most recently in Michigan.
Helping vets find financing
Moving is one of life’s biggest cornerstones, and America’s military families move more frequently than most, about every 2-3 years on average. That burden is somewhat eased by a Veterans Affairs (VA) loan, a privately funded mortgage backed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that is best known for allowing veterans to purchase a home with no down payment. However, it’s not always enough.
In an effort to further support veterans and housing affordability, the Zillow Home Loans (ZHL) VA loans program offers eligible veterans access to competitive interest rates without prepayment penalties or private mortgage insurance requirements, as well as a discounted VA loan fee of $499 (compared to the $1,500 fee for all other loan types). Additionally, ZHL’s VA loans have the potential to close as quickly as conventional loans, which is notable as some other lenders can take more than 45 days to close a VA loan.
According to new Zillow research, veterans who rent or buy homes also hold a small affordability edge over non-veteran households, generally spending a lower percentage of their monthly incomes on housing. Active-duty military households spend 29.3% of their incomes on rent, while veteran households spend 27.4% – significantly less than the 30.4% of income paid for rent that was typical for all other U.S. renter households in 2021. Veterans also pay a lower share of their incomes on mortgages: 14.6%, compared with 15.4% for all other U.S. households. This is because in general, veterans have smaller payments, potentially due to the rate differences in VA loans compared to traditional conventional loans. According to 2022 Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data, the median interest rate for a VA loan was 4.75%, while the median interest rate for a conventional loan was 4.99%.
To help with one kind of home purchase, Zillow has developed a tool that adds information about eligibility for a VA loan to all condo listings on Zillow, allowing them to immediately see if the condo they’re interested in is VA-loan eligible. Before this tool was available, most shoppers had to toggle between their search on Zillow and the VA website to confirm financing eligibility on every single condo they were interested in, adding unnecessary complexity and time to their home search. This feature – created by a veteran who works at Zillow – started as part of Zillow’s 2021 HackWeek, and has helped approximately 125 veterans find homes to date.
Advocating for change
With 40,000 veterans unhoused and another 1.4 million at risk in the U.S., we are dedicated to working on both a local and national scale to influence change. We advocated in support of legislation in Washington state that, once passed, would create a down payment assistance (DPA) fund for nurses, firefighters, law enforcement, military members, veterans, childcare providers, mental health professionals, and other first responders. We have also worked directly with and in support of U.S. Vets, a 501c3 organization dedicated to ending veteran homelessness, providing them with $35,000 in funding and amplifying the cause through a “Finding Home in America” episode.
And, our efforts don’t stop there. Zillow also advocates for increased funding to entities that furnish services to transitional housing for homeless veterans via The Return Home to Housing Act that is currently pending before Congress. In addition to helping homeless veterans, Zillow also advocates in support of legislation that would expand the Veterans Association of Real Estate Professionals to expand its services to include sustainable homeownership, financial literacy education and VA home loan awareness in order to help more members of our military and veteran communities succeed on their path to homeownership.
Empowering our employee veterans community
As a company, Zillow is proud to affirm our unwavering support to veterans and active-duty military within our walls, and we recognize that the discipline, dedication, and leadership skills cultivated through military service are an asset to our organization.
Zillow also participates in the Statement of Support Program, joining hundreds of thousands of employers that act as advocates for employee participation in the military. By signing a statement of support, we pledge to fully recognize, honor, and comply with the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act – including accommodating employees’ military service commitments, allowing for temporary leave, and ensuring employees remain eligible for employee benefits plans and maintain seniority during their service.
Our Veterans Employee Resource Group (ERG) uplifts the voices and experiences of veterans, active-service members and allies through friendship, outreach, community engagement and service. By empowering our veteran community, we aim to curate a more inclusive and supportive workplace and ensure the unique talents and leadership qualities of our employees continue to shine. This November, Zillow employees are honoring Veterans Day and their military peers by participating in several internal events, including a fireside chat with Army Captain and former Miss USA Deshauna Barber, and a community service event supporting Plymouth Housing, a nonprofit focused on eliminating homelessness in Seattle.
We are committed to honoring, and celebrating our veterans and the military community, and to using the power of our research, advocacy and product innovation to help make housing more affordable, fair and accessible for all, including those who serve. Learn more by visiting Zillow’s fair housing research page.