New York Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney stood with local leaders in Newburgh Thursday, announcing legislation to help turn so-called zombie homes into housing for homeless veterans.
Congressman Maloney, a Democrat whose district office is in Newburgh, stood on Chambers Street in front of one of the many abandoned properties in the city to announce the reintroduction of the Housing Our Heroes Act.
“But really the idea is that people should not fight for our country and come home and sleep on the street. And it’s not enough to just give them a bed. We should be giving opportunity and hope and a place in the community,” Maloney says. “And we have communities that desperately need new homeowners with new energies and new creativity. Newburgh should be a thriving, wonderful little city where people bring their families and start businesses and invest in their communities and go to good schools on well-lit, clean, safe streets, and it can be that city.”
He says the legislation would create a three-year, $25 million pilot program within the Department of Veterans Affairs that would provide federal investments to Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) to acquire and update blighted properties for housing for homeless veterans. Michelle McKeon is COO of RECAP, an anti-poverty organization in Orange County. She supports the idea of putting home ownership in reach for veterans.
“Homelessness is not a partisan issue,” McKeon says. “Support for homes for vets shouldn’t be either.”
Maloney echoes the bipartisan aspect.
“I’m very pleased that it’s a bipartisan piece of legislation. Congresswoman Elise Stefanik has joined me on this legislation. We expect a lot more sponsors,” says Maloney. “Helping our vets and rebuilding our cities should not be a partisan issue. This isn’t a Democratic issue or a Republican issue.”
Maloney says his bill would provide another tool in the kit of Veterans Service Organizations and organizations like land banks that are trying to redevelop blighted properties.
“You don’t have to go far in the Hudson Valley in my district north of us, south of us to see this phenomenon. Here in Newburgh or in Poughkeepsie or in Middletown, you’ll see too many properties that have been abandoned for too long. They should be on the tax rolls. They should be part of a thriving community,” Maloney says. “At the same time we’ve had a problem with homelessness among our veterans. While we have made progress in recent years, we still have far too many homeless veterans, including 1,500 right here in the state of New York.”
The program would help put previously homeless veterans on the path to homeownership by enabling them to start repaying the Veterans Service Organization after a year of occupancy. Republican Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus called the idea a no-brainer and said he would do whatever is needed to help to make it a reality.
“’Cause there’s houses and buildings like this in every community,” says Neuhaus. “It’s not just the city of Newburgh. So that’s why it has such a big ripple effect.”
And he says a new county code will aid the effort in one way.
“We’re doing our part in the fall where we’re going to be releasing actually the sanitary code that we passed which allows county Department of Health workers to now go in partnership with the City of Newburgh code enforcement office to start cracking down on zombie houses, on properties where people are even living in,” Neuhaus says. “So we look forward to working with you, and that’s really where it came from, to help the City of Newburgh.”
Democratic Assemblyman Frank Skartados, whose district includes Newburgh, offered his help on the state level.
“This is a win-win situation for everyone. I don’t think we’re going to get any opposition anywhere,” says Skartados. “So I’d be happy to introduce legislation that would allow things like the land bank, for example, to lead the way, to lead the effort and make it happen.”
Nearly one year ago, Maloney joined New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on a nearby street in Newburgh where Schneiderman announced the launch of a pilot program to transform vacant homes into affordable housing, though not specifically for homeless veterans.