Resolution Calls on Albany to Extend Mitchell-Lama Priority Admission to Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan

City Hall, November 9th, 2009 – Speaker Christine C. Quinn, Council Member Gale A. Brewer, and Veterans Committee Chair James Sanders, Jr. today announced a Council resolution calling on the State Legislature to give priority admission in Mitchell-Lama housing developments to veterans of the Iraq, Afghanistan and Gulf Wars, as well as their widows and widowers, and to widowers of Vietnam-era veterans.

The Speaker and Council members were joined by Lionelle Hamanaka, the mother of a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, whose son was unable to find affordable housing after returning from the war. Unable to find work, and lacking an affordable housing option, Ms. Hamanaka’s son was forced to take a job as a civilian contractor and is now based back in the Middle East, while his wife and two children remain in New York City. Ms. Hamanaka reached out to the Council about her son’s situation, and helped instigate the current effort to expand housing preference for veterans.

“This Veterans Day, we remember the great sacrifices that our men and women in uniform make for our country every day,” said Speaker Christine C. Quinn. “Unfortunately, too many of them return to find they cannot afford a decent home for themselves and their families. Decades ago we built a preference into the Mitchell-Lama program, to help veterans returning from Vietnam to find affordable housing. We owe no less to those currently returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, and I urge my colleagues in Albany to extend the same preference to them.”

“Our Iraq, Afghanistan and Gulf War veterans return to considerable physical and financial hardship,” said Council Member Gale A. Brewer, primary sponsor of the resolution. “An increasing number of them are jobless and homeless, and unable to provide adequate care for their families. This is a travesty of justice, but it can be alleviated: the New York State government can act to aid these veterans by giving them priority on the Mitchell–Lama housing list, and by increasing benefits and services to prevent hunger, homelessness, and substance abuse, and to provide adequate medical care and counseling services. We owe them no less, and it is, even in these times of financial hardship, little enough compared to the sacrifice they have already made for our well-being and the security of the nation.”

“We veterans applaud the Speaker and the City Council,” said Veterans Committee Chair James Sanders, Jr. “Part of the agreement America has with its veterans is that we will put our life and limb in harm’s way but the government will honor its commitment by means of housing, education and other benefits. Today, the City Council re-affirms that it will honor its commitment.”

The US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates that there are approximately 225,270 veterans living in New York City. Many veterans groups disagree with that estimate, and believe there are closer to 300,000 veterans in the five boroughs.

Returning veterans often face great difficulty finding affordable housing options. Veterans are disproportionately represented in the homeless population, with the VA estimating that one-third of the nation’s homeless have served in the military. Meanwhile, a 2008 New York City Housing and Vacancy Survey found that the Citywide vacancy rate for rental apartments was only 2.88 percent.

“When my son came home from deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq he could not find a job or affordable housing, so he had to break up his family and take a job 6,000 miles from home,” said Lionelle Hamanaka. “We in the military family/veteran community are overjoyed that the New York City Council is supporting returning veterans seeking a place to live, and helping New York City be a vet-friendly place for our returning heroes.”

“Ensuring that our veterans have access to safe, decent affordable housing is the least we can do for them after they have put their lives at risk to protect and defend our nation,” said Housing & Buildings Committee Chair Erik Martin Dilan. “In a way, granting veterans priority access to affordable housing is our way of serving them after they have served us so unselfishly. I urge the State to revise these Mitchell Lama priority occupancy clauses.”

“When America Works started to help Veterans’ find employment, we were pleased to see the numbers of Veterans who actually wanted to go back to work, but we were shocked to see the numbers of veterans living in homeless shelters,” said Dr. Lee Bowes, Chief Executive Officer of America Works of New York. “We applaud and commend the New York City Council for calling on the State of New York to allow this deserving population to live in Mitchell Lama Housing. We must do everything we can to help this population find appropriate housing after their dedicated service to defending this country.”

Veterans who served from January 1, 1963 through May 7, 1975, the official end of the Vietnam War, and their widows, receive preference in Mitchell-Lama developments. However, veterans of the Iraq, Afghanistan and Gulf Wars currently receive no such preference, and widowers of Vietnam War-era veterans receive no preference as well.