Improving Housing Options for New York City Veterans

Today is Veteran's Day, a time to honor the service of all those who serve our country. As we express our gratitude to veterans for protecting our freedom, it is imperative that we provide them the necessary services and benefits they rightfully deserve.

On the local, state and federal level, government is working alongside veteran's organizations and other stakeholders to provide services such as medical assistance, employment resources, and housing support to veterans and their dependents and survivors. But there are still gaps in services that must be rectified. As the Public Advocate for the City of New York, I am working to ensure that Veterans are receiving vital services, particularly when it comes to housing.

It is no secret that New York City has an affordable housing shortage. For those who've returned from the battlefield, the problem is even more pronounced. We have a moral responsibility to help veterans avoid homelessness and displacement.

While New York State law grants priority admission preferences to public housing for veterans who were honorably discharged and served in the military between February 2, 1961 and May 1, 1975 there are no preferences for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. The time is now for the State Legislature and the Governor to pass and sign into law Senate Bill 1702, introduced by State Senator Tony Avella of Queens. This bill would grant long overdue priority access at the New York City Housing Authority to veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who served between September 14, 2001 and December 31, 2014. The bill would also give a preference to veterans or families of veterans who have a military service-connected disability designated by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.

The second step relates to the application process for Mitchell Llama housing developments. The Private Housing Finance Law gives disabled veterans advantages in securing housing at developments originally funded through the Mitchell-Llama program. A 2012 audit by the State Comptroller notes that while the State Legislature has extended housing preferences for Veterans, there is lax enforcement by government agencies and disregard for housing preferences by private management companies that process applications.

The report found that Veterans' rights to preference were bypassed more than a quarter of the 18 developments investigated. At Hamilton House and Clinton Towers in Manhattan, apartments were filled with non-veterans when there were veterans on waiting lists. The city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development approved many of these applications.

In order to ensure and confirm that these policies are adhered to, I support the State Comptroller's recommendations to increase education and outreach efforts among management companies and government agencies regarding Veterans preferences and to actively monitor whether these preferences are being adhered to by the proper entities. In addition, I call on HPD to issue an annual progress report to the City Council's Committee on Veterans Affairs regarding their work on housing veterans in Mitchell Llama developments.

As we remember our veterans today, let's support specific steps our government can take to address their most pressing concerns. For those who've benefited from our veterans' sacrifices, it's the least we can do.