Student Veterans Meet with Council Member Eric Ulrich to Address Housing Issue

L-R: Stephany Lopez, Douglas Israel, Keifer Ramos, Edan Benmelech, Wilfred Cotto, Diego Changa and NYC Council Member Eric Ulrich (not shown: Yanisal Ramirez)

Three BMCC student veterans; Stephany Lopez, Diego Changa, and Keifer Ramos, along with BMCC alumni Yanisel Ramirez and Edan Benmelech met with Eric Ulrich, Chair of the New York City Council Committee on Veterans, at the New York City Council office in Lower Manhattan on January 23.

Accompanied by Wilfred Cotto, BMCC Veterans Services Specialist, and Douglas Israel, BMCC Director of Government and Community Relations, the students presented their concerns about difficulties student veterans encounter when they apply for apartments and present as income, their Basic Allowance for Housing, part of the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

“The students did a fantastic job presenting this issue and possible solutions to Councilmember Ulrich,” said Cotto. He thanked the office of Eric Ulrich and stressed that “accessibility to adequate and affordable housing plays a vital role in the success of student veterans, while pursuing higher education after military service. We look forward to continuing our outreach efforts to the borough president and others in city government.”

“This was the first time I had met with a public official in this way,” said Liberal Arts major and student veteran Stephany Lopez, President of the BMCC Veterans Resource Organization. “We spent a couple weeks organizing our case with Mr. Israel and Mr. Cotto, and I feel like we at least got our foot in the door on this issue. We’re just a small fraction of a bigger population struggling with this issue.”

Lopez adds that she lives in New Jersey, “where landlords are more lenient in accepting documentation showing that the GI Bill is paying for the rent. But I’m originally from Florida and my dream has always been to live in New York City.”

Sitting at the conference table with Council Member Ulrich, “Diego gave the opening statement and then Keifer Ramos presented the problem,” she says. “I presented possible solutions; outcomes we would like to see, as well as my experience getting housing, and Edan talked about his struggle using the GI Bill to obtain housing.”

“I was nervous but it was something I wanted to do because we are having this problem often, and talking to a City Council member was a good way to address it,” said Diego Changa. “By communicating with people in city government, we can enlist their help and guidance and actually make a change.”

“I have been very impressed with the students and their interest in engaging with our local elected officials to find solutions to the unique challenges they face as student veterans,” said Douglas Israel. “Civic participation is critical to the functioning of our democracy and it’s great that students at BMCC are making efforts to become more involved. We greatly appreciate Council Member Ulrich taking the time to meet with us and offering to assist the students in their effort to ensure student veterans have access to stable and affordable housing options.”