Mayor de Blasio, Council Member Jumaane Williams, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Public Advocate Letitia James Announce Legislation That Adds Veterans and Military Status as Protected Class Under the City's Human Rights Law

August 16, 2016

Bill gives veterans and active military members direct protections under City law against discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations

Amendment latest effort by City to ensure veterans and active service members receive the support they need to thrive in NYC

NEW YORK––Today, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Council Member Jumaane Williams, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Public Advocate Letitia James announced the introduction of new legislation that would amend the NYC Human Rights Law to include current or prior service in the uniformed services as a protected class in housing, employment and public accommodations. The bill is a joint proposal by City Council, the Public Advocate, Department of Veterans’ Services and the Commission on Human Rights to create a new and viable venue where veterans and service members can bring claims of discrimination and receive fair and equal treatment under the law. It is the City’s latest effort to support and protect active service members and veterans reentering civilian life. The bill was introduced at today’s Council Stated Meeting.

“Veterans across the country routinely face obstacles in employment, housing and public accommodations,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “We don’t tolerate that in New York City. These brave men and women put their lives on the line for our country and they deserve respect and dignity. This new law will ensure all military and other uniformed service members, both returned and active, can live and work free from discrimination in New York City.”

“New York City has always been a leader in protecting our nation's veterans, and today we put that protection into law,” said Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “From regularly including funding for their needs in our annual budgets to establishing the nation's largest standalone Department of Veterans’ Services, we are committed to ensuring that the challenges facing our men and women in uniform do not continue once they return home. I am proud to be working with Mayor Bill de Blasio, Commissioner Loree Sutton, Public Advocate Letitia James, and Council Member Jumaane Williams on serving the veterans in our city as they have tirelessly served us.”

“We continually prop veterans and uniformed service members as valuable protectors of our country,” said Council Member Jumaane D. Williams. “Yet, we routinely leave them vulnerable and undefended even as they fulfill their end of the agreement. It is our duty as Americans and legislators to protect them, provide them with support and make sure the promises being made to them are kept. I’m pleased to partner with the administration, the Public Advocate and my council colleagues to introduce legislation to further protections related to housing, employment and public accommodations.”

“No veteran should be denied housing or employment because they risked their lives to serve our country. By guaranteeing our veterans safeguards under the City’s Human Rights Law, we will ensure that all uniformed service members, retired and active, are protected from discrimination. New York is a city that will always stand by those who have served to protect us,” said Public Advocate Letitia James.

“In harmony with Mayor de Blasio’s thoughtful foresight, this historic amendment conveys to our veterans and military community that we here in New York City are willing to expand protections for those who stood in harm’s way to defend and protect our country,” said Department of Veterans’ Services Commissioner Loree Sutton. “Many of our City’s veterans face challenges with housing, employment, mental and physical health issues which may create a stigmatization. Adding current or prior service in uniformed services as a protected class provides additional protections and increases accessibility to a community that would not ordinarily seek assistance from state and federal governments. I want to thank Public Advocate Letitia James, Council Member Jumaane Williams, and the entire City Council for their unwavering support of our agency and of our veterans and military community.”

“Veterans and active military and other uniformed personnel routinely put their lives on the line for people in this country,” said Human Rights Commissioner and Chair Carmelyn P. Malalis. “The least we can do is guarantee them the same freedom, respect and opportunities as everyone else. This law will give veterans and active military and other uniformed personnel direct protection under the New York City Human Rights law.”

Finding and maintaining stable employment remains a challenge for many veterans and members of uniformed services. According to the US Department of Labor, nearly 14,000 veterans are unemployed across New York State, according to the Bureau of Labor Statics. Some veterans and members of the uniformed services may face employment discrimination when employers refuse to hire them for fear that they will be deployed during employment or falsely assume veterans may suffer from mental health issues.

Similarly, uniformed service members may also experience housing discrimination. Landlords may refuse to rent to members of the uniformed services for fear that they may be deployed on official orders or not recognize that veterans using their GI Bill benefits to attend local colleges receive a living allowance to cover the costs a rental. At last count, there were approximately 2,500 homeless veterans across New York State, although New York City recently made great strides to end chronic homeless in the City.

New York State is home to nearly 900,000 veterans, 225,000 of whom call New York City home, and nearly 30,000 active duty military personnel and 30,000 National Guard and Reserve personnel statewide.

Today’s bill is the City’s latest effort to remove unnecessary obstacles to housing, employment and public accommodation for veterans and active service members and ensure that they have the resources and protections they need to thrive.

In December of last year, the Mayor signed legislation to create the Department of Veterans’ Services, investing $1.5 million in additional staff and resources. Over the last two years, the department has helped the City find permanent homes for more than 1,800 previously homeless veterans. In fact, the federal government recognized New York City in December for ending chronic veteran homelessness in New York City as a result of the Mayor’s Office and numerous City agencies implementing policies, procedures, and strategies aimed at connecting veterans to quality housing resources.

Over the past two years, the Mayor and the City Council have quadrupled funding and staff in support of the Department of Veterans’ Services, which has also expanded employment opportunities for our veterans, launched an IDNYC veteran designator, and brought veterans' mental health services to the forefront.

“Active and returning military members face many obstacles to employment, discrimination among them,” said Director of the Veteran Advocacy Project at the Urban Justice Center Coco Culhane. “This bill is an important recognition of the challenges our service members face and it will help remove at least one barrier to employment for veterans.”

“Our City's veterans and military community have served to defend and protect many of our nation's human rights," said retired Navy Captain and Legal Director of the Veterans Defense Program at the New York State Defenders Association Art Cody. "It is only right that the City includes them in those very rights and protects them from discrimination. I applaud the Mayor’s Office, City Council, and the Public Advocate for introducing this important bill.”

“Adding these protections to the City’s Human Rights Law will give veterans and active military members direct access to protections against discrimination in employment, housing, and other essentials of life,” said Executive Director of Brooklyn Defenders Services Lisa Schreibersdorf. “The Commission on Human Rights will now have the power and resources to fight the compounding discrimination that our justice-involved veteran clients endure, such as barriers to employment, education and other important benefits. I look forward to working with the Commission to help our City’s veterans and military members get the redress they need and deserve.”

"Adding uniformed service to our city's comprehensive human rights laws will send a powerful message to our veterans and military members that New York City supports, honors, and protects them," said Kristen Rouse, U.S. Army Veteran, Founding Director of the NYC Veterans Alliance. "This law will provide our veterans and military members with legal recourse right here in our city government when our rights are violated. Our city must have the backs of all those who have served, and who continue to serve in uniform-not just in words and sentiment, but in tangible policies and legal protections through all areas of life where they have faced discrimination."

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