NYLAG attorneys see every day vulnerable veterans who are struggling with housing insecurity, too often leading to homelessness. The agency’s LegalHealth unit works onsite at New York City Veteran Affairs (VA) hospitals representing veterans facing eviction or foreclosure as well as problems, such as difficulties in accessing public benefits that can lead to homelessness. The agency’s Veteran’s Legal Assistance Project provides similar services through partnerships with community-based and veteran organizations.

As is the case in the general population, the problem of homelessness is particularly severe for veterans with serious health problems, both physical and mental. Recently, several studies, including a report released in September by the advocacy group Disabled American Veterans, indicate that women veterans, who face unique barriers when returning to civilian life, are also more likely to become homeless – a problem that is expected to grow as more women join the military. And every low-income veteran returning to New York City is challenged by the chronic and growing shortage of affordable housing.

On Monday, November 10th – the day before Veteran’s Day – the New York City Council’s Committees on General Welfare and Veteran’s Oversight held a joint hearing on what steps the City can take to combat veteran homelessness. Speaking on behalf of NYLAG, LegalHealth supervising attorney Kevin Kenneally made the following recommendations for eliminating barriers to veteran subsidies and other benefits, and adding efficiencies to the system. In addition to Kenneally, NYLAG’s testimony was signed by attorneys David Falcon, with the Veterans Legal Assistance Project, and Kamilla Sjodin, Associate Director, Housing Law.

  • Veterans receiving Section 8 housing subsidies pay a portion of the rent, calculated based on their income. When they report that their income has been reduced, it is imperative that the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) promptly correct its records to reflect that fact. It currently often takes months for this to happen. In the meantime, the veteran cannot pay her or his rent, triggering eviction proceedings in Housing Court and the loss of the housing voucher. More prompt and timely reporting on NYCHA’s part will correct this problem.
  • Until a veteran becomes homeless, he or she is not eligible for a federal housing subsidy. If they cannot pay the rent because of temporary loss of income, rent increases, or unexpected medical expenses, they can be eligible for one-time assistance from either the city or local nonprofit providers. But the process is unnecessarily cumbersome and lengthy. New York City’s Human Resources Administration (HRA) should streamline and simplify the process for providing cash relief.
  • We have seen too many veterans who have severe medical conditions being unfairly forced to move to smaller apartments when their health status clearly warrants a housing accommodation. All city agencies should be trained on the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, so veterans with physical and mental impairments receive the housing accommodations they deserve. Upfront training can help to reduce administrative time and expense, as well as the added stress inflicted on veterans.

“It appears the momentum is building to find new and effective ways to end veteran homelessness in our city,” said Kenneally. “We commend all those who have and continue to work on this important issue, and we are grateful to have been asked to recommend steps that we believe can help us make further progress.”