When we think about how to help our fellow New Yorkers, we need to remember those who have given the greatest sacrifice to safeguard our freedoms – whether it was a few months or decades ago – our veterans. Although we celebrate Veterans Day every year, one day is not enough. We owe it to the brave men and women who have served our country in uniform to be vigilant about supporting them every single day.
New York City is home to over 210,000 veterans, who dedicated years of their lives to protect the founding ideals of our country and to ensure the safety and security of their fellow Americans. They have put in years of crucial hard work and sacrifice. Yet, unfortunately, they too often return home lacking the meaningful support that would to help them navigate the challenges of the return to civilian life.
That is where we come in as those elected to serve these men and women, and their families. As members of the City Council, it is our duty and the duty of our fellow elected officials, to amplify the voices of the people in our city. And that means ensuring the concerns of veterans in New York City are heard loud and clear.
To that end, this Council has taken a number of significant steps to support our veterans and improve their quality of life.
Earlier this year, the Council passed an expansion of the Alternative Veterans Property Tax Exemption, which provides significant additional financial relief for veteran households.
That was preceded by the passage of historic legislation to make New York City the largest municipality in the country to establish a separate city department entirely dedicated to connecting veterans and their families with public and private resources.
Our Committee on Veterans has supported ThriveNYC’s focus on mental healthcare for veterans, and jointly with the Committee on General Welfare, tackled veteran homelessness by assessing the quality of the city’s services to veterans.
This year, the Council also passed legislation to include current or prior service in the uniformed services as a protected class in housing, employment and public accommodations giving veterans direct protection from discrimination under the city’s Human Rights Law.
And with the expansion of the veteran’s property tax exemption, the Council is working hard to address the issue of affordable veteran homeownership.
Homeownership can be an important step in many peoples’ lives – it helps build wealth and equity over time. As a result, veterans and their families can benefit significantly from owning and maintaining homes. At the state level, the Homes for Veterans Program, offered through the State of New York Mortgage Agency, has been helping veterans obtain and preserve homeownership in the form of fixed rate mortgages with low interest rates and down payment assistance. But we are also working hard to pull our weight here in New York City.
When veterans struggle to pay their property taxes, it raises the cost of homeownership and can put a significant strain on their family’s budget. That is why passing legislation to include school taxes in the veterans property tax exemption is crucial to helping veteran households afford to remain in New York City, and remain integral part of the fabric of our communities.
A greater savings on property taxes can truly make a big difference in the life of a veteran homeowner. The average New Yorker pays over $9,000 on property taxes annually – and this burden could be disproportionately greater on retired veterans and veterans transitioning back to civilian life. In New York City alone, there are over 53,000 veteran homeowners. The expanded Alternative Property Tax Exemption is projected to save qualifying veteran households an average of an additional $595 each year on their property taxes, on top of the existing savings of $545 per year.
While we are proud of our achievements, addressing the needs of the veteran community remains one of the Council's most important priorities. Whether through increased tax relief, combating veteran homelessness, allowing veterans to bring claims of discrimination to ensure fair and equal treatment under the law or making sure veterans and their families are connected to health, educational and employment resources, we will continue to advocate for the well being of New York City’s veterans.
The men and women who have dedicated their lives to serving and protecting our country should not have to continue fighting further battles upon returning home. This Veterans Day, and every day, let us work hard in an impactful way to thank them for their service.
Melissa Mark-Viverito is speaker of the New York City Council. Steven Matteo is the City Council’s minority leader.