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June 6, 2012

 

DiNapoli: NYC Veterans Missing Out on Housing

City Housing Officials Need to Improve Oversight of Developments

Few veterans living in New York City have benefited from a state law giving them preference when applying for apartments in Mitchell-Lama housing developments, according to an audit released today by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

“Safe, decent and affordable housing is critical to the stability and safe integration of veterans back into civilian life. Many veterans have suffered with physical disabilities as well as emotional and psychological difficulties arising from the stress of combat,” DiNapoli said.  “Unfortunately, many housing complexes have failed to follow state law to make sure veterans have a chance to secure Mitchell-Lama housing, even after a directive from the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development. This has to change. The words ‘homeless’ and ‘veteran’ should never have to be used in the same sentence.”

The Mitchell-Lama program provides affordable housing for residents across New York State. When program apartments become available, they are sold or rented through waiting lists maintained by each housing development. Since 2007, state law has required the developments to give preference to disabled veterans. In 2010 the law was broadened to include veterans who served on active duty during certain wars and hostilities, including Iraq and Afghanistan. The same benefits now also extend to the surviving spouses of those who served.

In October 2010, the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (NYC HPD) informed the Mitchell-Lama developments it supervises about the changes and directed them to revise their application forms, notify applicants on their waiting lists about the new preference and request that veterans submit proof of eligibility.

DiNapoli’s auditors reviewed 18 developments supervised by the NYC HPD. Those developments filled 332 vacancies during the nine months ended September 30, 2011, but only 14 of the units went to veterans. Three months after the directive, 13 of the 18 developments were still not meeting all of the notification and updating requirements.

As a result of DiNapoli’s audit, three developments began notifying applicants on their waiting lists about the veterans’ preference. Each reported they subsequently received responses from a few applicants, indicating Mitchell-Lama waiting lists across the city likely contain the names of veterans who are not receiving preferential treatment.  There are more than 200,000 veterans living in New York City, according to U.S. Census data.

Auditors also discovered that two Manhattan developments – Hamilton House and Clinton Towers – filled vacancies without offering those units to any of the veterans identified on their waiting lists.

A similar audit of the New York State Division of Homes and Community Renewal released in May 2011 had similar findings.

DiNapoli’s audit recommends NYC HPD:

  • Take additional steps to educate housing company officials about their responsibility to ensure that appropriate preference is awarded to veterans as specified in the law.
  • Actively monitor whether housing companies are taking necessary steps to ensure that veterans receive appropriate preference; and
  •  Investigate the cases cited in this report where housing companies failed to offer available housing to eligible veterans, including cases of potentially excessive vacancy rates, to ensure housing companies are not acting to deprive veterans of their rights.

NYC HPD officials generally agreed with the auditís findings and indicated they have begun taking steps to implement them.

A copy of the full audit can be seen here: http://www.osc.state.ny.us/audits/allaudits/093012/11n3.pdf


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