McKeesport – September 5, 2014 – Lawmakers who participated in Friday afternoon’s roundtable discussion at the James R. Brewster Community Center in McKeesport learned first-hand about the needs of veterans and the obstacles they face when they try to find adequate housing.
“There is no question that we have significant challenges before us in trying to meet the housing needs of veterans,” Brewster (D-Allegheny/Westmoreland) said. “Fortunately, as a result of both legislative initiatives and community involvement we can make inroads and help those who served our country.”
Brewster co-hosted the roundtable discussion along with Senate Democratic Appropriations Chair Vi4ncent J. Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery). Brewster and Hughes welcomed Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny), Sen. Matt Smith (D-Allegheny) and Rep. Bill Kortz (D-Allegheny) to the discussion of legislation (Senate Bill 1135) that provides for veterans preferences in public housing.
Hughes is the prime sponsor of Senate Bill 1135, which passed Senate unanimously on July 1 and it is now in the House Urban Affairs Committee awaiting action. Brewster and Costa are among a number of Democratic and Republican senators who have signed onto the measure as co-sponsors.
Local veterans, representatives of veteran’s groups, housing authorities, the Allegheny County executive’s office, and officials from the regional Housing and Urban Development and the NAACP McKeesport Unit outlined both challenges faced by veterans and programs that provide assistance. The mayors of McKeesport and Duquesne along with Brian Hudson, executive director and chief executive officer of the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, provided insight about the housing needs of veterans.
“I introduced the legislation establishing veterans’ preferences because I believe we have the means available to help those who served in our armed forces,” Hughes said. “It is a shame that veterans are going homeless when we could act swiftly to make sure they have a roof over their head.”
Under the measure, a housing authority would give first preference for housing to homeless veterans. Disabled veterans would receive second preference for public housing followed by families of deceased veterans. Once these preferences are cleared, then all other veterans and their families would be eligible.
Costa said that “providing access to quality housing for our veterans is the least that we can to repay them for their sacrifice. The passage of this legislation is an excellent way to assure that those veterans in need receive help in finding a home.”
Smith said that it was unacceptable that veterans go homeless each evening and that action should be taken to immediately address this problem. He said that Pennsylvania lawmakers should approach issues impacting veterans holistically and that attention should also be directed to job training, health care and workforce development.
Hughes pointed out that on any given night 1,500 veterans in Pennsylvania are homeless. He also said that, according the United States Veterans Administration establishing permanent housing for veterans is critical in meeting behavior health needs.
Brewster also said that he was pleased that the McKeesport Housing Authority was building handicapped accessible units that would be made available to veterans and that other local public housing that could help veterans is also being built.
Following the roundtable discussion, Brewster led lawmakers and officials on a tour of an adjacent handicapped-accessible housing unit that would be available for veterans. He said that once public housing projects are completed in McKeesport and Duquesne, there would approximately 100 housing units that could be used by veterans if the legislation is approved.
“I hope that this discussion can help highlight the issue, our proposed solution and pressure can be applied to push legislation through that helps veterans,” Brewster said.
Contact: Hugh Baird