TESTIMONY: Support of Zoning for Quality and Affordability

New York City Council, Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises

Council Member Donovan Richards, Chair

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Testimony by Bobbie Sackman, Director of Public Policy, LiveOn NY in support of Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA)

LiveOn NY is a non‐profit organization that makes New York a better place to age by working on policy, advocacy and innovative programs. We have a membership base of 100 organizations that provide more than 800 community based programs, which range from individual community‐based centers to large multi‐service organizations. LiveOn NY’s Affordable Senior Housing Coalition is comprised of 25 of the leading NYC non‐ profit senior housing providers. LiveOn NY’s policy and advocacy work focuses on community‐based services, affordable senior housing with services, elder abuse prevention and services, caregiver supports and other issues impacting older New Yorkers. We also run a robust outreach and enrollment program to assist older adults to access public benefits.  

LiveOn NY’s Affordable Senior Housing Coalition, comprised of the 25 leading NYC nonprofit senior housing providers, supports the passage of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA) amendment which would facilitate the building of senior housing. Older adults isolated in 4 story walk ups, or paying more than 50% of their income in rent, or living in substandard, unsafe apartments is not independence. Independence is living in affordable housing with supportive services and a community. At age 65, 70 or older, waiting up to ten years for housing, if it’s available at all, is much too long.  

Because LiveOn NY’s members work daily with the older adults in their communities across the city, we know the dire need that exists for affordable senior housing among the city’s most vulnerable residents.  We also know that Council Members and elected officials receive calls daily from constituents who desperately need safe affordable senior housing.  Supporting ZQA is a critical first step in addressing NYC’s affordable senior housing crisis. Seniors can’t wait.  

LiveOn NY’s recent survey of HUD Section 202 senior housing buildings in New York City, “Through the Roof ‐  Waiting Lists for Senior Housing,” documented waiting lists at 119 buildings.  The results were an astounding 102,000 seniors waiting an average of 7 years and as long as ten years on the waitlist. Responses were received from 43% of the Section 202 buildings in the five boroughs, projecting that waiting lists are upwards of 200,000 low income seniors citywide.  

Through the Roof ‐ Waiting Lists for Senior Housing Survey Results, January 26, 2016

The reality is that with the waitlist crisis for HUD 202 Affordable Senior Housing buildings reaching these astronomical numbers, coupled with outdated zoning requirements that add years and years of unnecessary delay to the affordable senior housing development process, the deck is stacked against the tens of thousands of NYC older adults who are perishing on waitlists.  These seniors do not have the luxury of waiting through the current pre‐development and development process, which spans over years and years because of outdated regulations and procedures.   These delays also cost affordable housing developers and governmental agencies an inordinate amount of money, which should be spent on building affordable apartments.  By enacting ZQA, we can move forward on affordable senior housing.  

The diverse age 60+ population is the fastest growing segment of the city’s population. One out of five seniors live in poverty, with thousands more in near poverty. Upwards of 100,000 seniors spend more than 50% of their income on rent. Building affordable senior housing with services is a citywide imperative. ZQA would allow nonprofit housing providers to utilize parking lots attached to the Section 202 buildings, land they own, to build additional housing. LiveOn NY’s report, “Paving the Way for New Senior Housing”, identified 39 parking lots that were feasible for building an additional 2000 units and other community amenities such as a senior center on. Without the passage of ZQA as proposed by the administration, these lots will sit underutilized and undeveloped.  

If there was available land to build affordable senior housing across the city, would you use it? There is. The key to using it is passing ZQA for independent senior buildings. LiveOn NY released, “Paving the Way for New Senior Housing”, identifying feasible land that could house 2000 older New Yorkers. The city needs to a plan to move forward now. At a certain age, you can’t wait.  

Why are seniors constantly calling their Council Members and elected officials desperate for affordable housing? Older New Yorkers, the fastest growing demographic in NYC, will comprise an estimated 1.84 million New Yorkers by 2030. Senior households are smaller and poorer on average than the general population. About one in five older New Yorkers live in poverty (below $11,170/year) with many surviving on Social Security alone.   2 Borough Number of 202 Properties Responded to Survey Total Number of 202s in borough Percentage of 202s Reporting Total on waitlist Brooklyn 42 85 49% 43,815 Bronx 18 78 23% 9,909 Manhattan 28 76 37% 15,684 Queens 25 29 86% 27,468 Staten Island 2 8 25% 950 Unknown borough 4 4,110 TOTAL ALL PROPERTIES 119 276 43% 101,936 LiveOn NY • 49 West 45th Street•7th Floor• New York, NY 10036• 212.398.6565    

How are seniors impacted by the housing affordability crisis? A shocking 65% of senior households living in rent regulated housing, including thousands on SCRIE, spend more than half their income on rent. For those in unregulated buildings the burden is greater.  Insufficient affordable housing forces seniors to remain isolated in unsafe or inappropriate housing. This includes living on upper floors of walk ups or in spaces unable to accommodate a wheelchair.  

Why is utilizing HUD 202 parking lots one part of the solution to the affordable housing crisis? Land scarcity is the greatest challenge confronting senior housing providers. In the face of a dwindling stock of city‐owned land and soaring acquisition costs, HUD 202 parking lots are an untapped source of new land. The lots are owned by local non‐profit housing providers mission driven to provide appropriately sized apartments ensuring senior independence.  

Zoning changes would not require eliminating parking, but becomes a powerful option if it’s in the best interest of the community’s elders. Local non‐profits have been an integral community partner for decades providing senior housing and services and are the organizations relied upon by local residents and elected officials.  

What did the study, “Paving the Way for New Senior Housing in NYC” find?  LiveOn NY’s affordable senior housing coalition is comprised of leading NYC non‐profit senior housing providers, operating 20,000 apartments. Their knowledge of the challenges in building affordable housing informed the study. It is critical to understand that these parking lots can be used only by residents of the building.

Based on carefully determined criteria, 39 lots were identified as potentially feasible sites located in all five boroughs. These sites could generate at least 2,000 new apartments. With hundreds of thousands on waiting lists, the potential to house at least 2,000 seniors cannot be ignored.

Will utilizing parking lot land for housing take away much needed parking spaces? Simply put, no. A Department of City Planning analysis found extremely low car ownership rates among HUD 202 building residents, at only 5 cars per 100 residents in areas near public transportation and 11 cars per 100 residents in areas further from transit.  

Why is utilization so low? Many residents have incomes below $15,000 and have aged in place and no longer drive. They are unable to maintain car ownership or have stopped driving. There are waiting lists for apartments.  There are no waiting lists for parking. Non‐profit managers provide vans to assist residents with their daily needs.  

Why is ZQA necessary to move senior housing forward? Without the enactment of ZQA, the parking lots will sit underutilized. Non‐profits will be unable to build housing. Outdated parking lot requirements no longer reflect the reality of demand. ZQA provides options for non‐profits to build more housing. It costs $20,000‐ $50,000 to develop one parking spot. That money could be used for additional apartments allowing the provider to go deeper into affordability. Allowing for increased height of one or two floors provides more apartments and commercial space. It prevents apartments being on street level, a particularly unsafe practice after Hurricane Sandy.   

Accessory amenities are a key component in the neighborhood development approach to keep seniors housed with services.  ZQA facilitates the co‐location of services.

How can the city “pave the way” for more senior housing? By enacting ZQA, zoning regulations will be updated to meet the growing need in the coming years.  ZQA that allows for underutilized land – a scarcity in NYC – to house 2000 or more seniors is imperative.  

If not, the final question is – what do you say to a senior desperate for affordable housing about why that lot is just sitting? Waiting is not an option.  As a City Council Member, you face a very important decision with this vote on ZQA.  We ask that you please keep the needs of seniors in mind when considering your vote on ZQA.