NY Bill Pushes Veteran Priority on Public Housing

November 10, 2009 Updated: October 1, 2015
Vietnam War veteran and author of the book 'Born on the Fourth of July' Ron Kovic reacts in front of mock coffins during a protest to mark the sixth anniversary of the Iraq war in Hollywood on March 21, 2009. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)
Vietnam War veteran and author of the book 'Born on the Fourth of July' Ron Kovic reacts in front of mock coffins during a protest to mark the sixth anniversary of the Iraq war in Hollywood on March 21, 2009. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

NEW YORK—A City Council resolution is calling on the state Legislature to give priority admission in state-supervised Mitchell-Lama housing developments to veterans of the Iraq, Afghanistan, and Gulf Wars, as well as their widows and widowers. The plea came on Monday, two days ahead of Veterans Day.

“Unfortunately, too many [veterans] return to find they cannot afford a decent home for themselves and their families,” said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. “Decades ago we built a preference into the Mitchell-Lama program, to help veterans returning from Vietnam to find affordable housing.”

Quinn and other council members urged their colleagues in Albany to extend the same preference to veterans currently returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Named after politicians who sponsored its creation, Mitchell-Lama housing was created in 1955 for the purpose of building affordable housing for middle-income residents. A total of 269 Mitchell-Lama developments with over 105,000 apartments were built under the program.

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. A 2008 New York City Housing and Vacancy Survey found that the citywide vacancy rate for rental apartments was only 2.88 percent.

The Council highlighted the case of 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, 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.

“He had to break up his family and take a job 6,000 miles from home,” said Lionelle Hamanaka.

Hamanaka reached out to the Council about her son’s situation, and helped instigate the current effort to expand housing preference for veterans.