Tom Stevens can’t hunt rabbits out his back door anymore and he needs a new hobby to fill the time he once spent bringing in firewood. But he’s not complaining.

“I was thinking of taking up carving again,” said Stevens, 63.

The lifelong Klukwan resident is one of about seven veterans who have moved into the Soboleff-McRae Veterans Village in recent weeks. Project staff expect the downtown building’s 11 units to be occupied or reserved before an open house scheduled for Sept. 11.

Stevens said he likes the convenience of grocery stores nearby and appreciates living among fellow veterans. “Just talking to the guys (makes a difference). The years and the issues just fly away,” he said, describing a veterans’ reunion he attended.

Stevens said he’s still “full of shrapnel” from a rocket-propelled grenade that struck a tank he was on during fighting for Vietnam’s contested “Iron Triangle.” He attends counseling sessions and must make trips to the Lower 48 for medical treatments. In February, a Seattle surgeon removed a pea-sized piece of shrapnel from his neck that kept him awake at night for years.

Without the veterans’ building, Stevens said his plan was to live in Klukwan as long as he could. “I had a chance to go north to a home, but I didn’t want to. I grew up in this valley. I know every crack in the sidewalk around here.”

Jim Moran, 48, is a disabled veteran who spent 11 years in the Army. Moran said his $600-per-month, one-bedroom apartment is a big step up from a trailer where he paid rent of $350 a month plus utilities. He’ll no longer worry about his electric bill and chores that were tough on his injured back.

“All (I) have to do is lock the door… It’s a huge step up for me. There’s no way you can beat this building and its facilities for anywhere near that kind of rent,” Moran said.

Moran, who has a local job coordinating veterans’ programs, said the building is a model for veterans’ housing in Alaska. “I think we’re going to run out of space. People have seen the facility and learned more about it. I think more people are interested in it.”

Octogenarian Bob Lix, a retired Air Force colonel, and wife Sally said moving into their two-bedroom apartment will allow them to stay in Haines. They bought a house here six years ago and can no longer keep up with shoveling snow and mowing the lawn. The building’s covered parking and extra storage areas also were pluses, Sally Lix said.

“We’re both in our 80s, so we’re looking to simplify our lives.” She also pointed to features like self-closing drawers, a programmable thermostat and sliding doors that allow a second bedroom to be used as part of the apartment’s living area. “Everything is done first rate. Nothing is flimsy.”

Lani Hotch of Klukwan, whose brother Ralph Strong is living at the new building, said she’s impressed.

“We have a small veteran’s memorial in Klukwan, but this is a great way to honor the service of veterans,” Hotch said.

There are seven, two-bedroom units (up to 860 square feet) and four, one-bedroom units (610 square feet). Rents start at $750 to $1,050 per month.

Tara Bicknell, community relations coordinator for developer Haines Assisted Living, said considerations at the new building included choosing carpeting hard enough for wheelchairs to run atop and for feet to shuffle over, but soft enough to cushion falls.

The project subsidizes rents by about 25 percent. In addition, four units are set aside for rent reductions for tenants who qualify for federal, low-income housing.

Bicknell said there are 28 individuals on a waiting list for the apartments. Veterans go to the top of the waiting list, she said. A secondary preference is given to spouses of deceased veterans and active-duty members of the military.

About $6.4 million has been spent on the building to date. The building’s ground floor is expected to be completed in about a year, Bicknell said.

HAL still needs to raise about $700,000 to pay for interior walls, sheetrock, plumbing fixtures and electrical extensions. Bicknell said HAL has memoranda of understanding with seven local offices looking to move into the planned Haines Wellness Center, including health care providers.

“They’ve been helping to design this so far,” Bicknell said.

She provided paperwork from project manager Dan Austin that, based on operating costs, HAL buildings are 40 percent more energy-efficient than buildings of conventional construction.