As de Blasio stumps for senior housing, report outlines wait lists
By: SALLY GOLDENBERG
Wednesday, 2 March 2016
Publication & Publisher: Capital New York
De Blasio visits the Park Slope Senior Center for Successful Aging. (Demetrius Freeman/Mayoral Photography Office)
As Mayor Bill de Blasio made his pitch to create more housing for low-income elderly New Yorkers on Tuesday, a new study found that wait lists for senior residences in the city are highest in Astoria and Sunset Park.
"Tell your family. Tell your friends. People need to speak up for affordable housing for seniors," the mayor said during a visit to the Park Slope Center for Successful Aging.
He was trying to corral support for his two-pronged zoning plan ahead of a binding vote of the City Council.
"This vote will happen this month, the month of March. It will happen and it will decide so much of the future," the mayor said.
His plan, which has been met with disapproval throughout the city for a variety of reasons, would create 5,000 new apartments for seniors over the next decade, according to a Department of City Planning report released in February.
"We have outdated laws that keep us from creating the affordable housing that seniors need," the mayor said during his opening remarks before several dozen seniors. "There are places where I'm required to put lots and lots of parking in, when that's not what seniors are telling me they want. They need a place to live. They need an apartment they can afford."
Meanwhile the senior advocacy organization LiveOn NY released an analysis on Tuesday that outlined where wait lists for senior housing are longest.
It was a follow-up to a previous study the organization put out that found 110,912 elderly New Yorkers are waiting an average of seven years for federally subsidized apartments. The group projected that had the response rate been complete, that figure would have exceeded 200,000. (When the study was released, nearly 102,000 had responded.)
Of the latest total, 19,850 people live in Astoria, 11,163 in Sunset Park and 8,570 in Bushwick and Williamsburg.
LiveOn is supporting the mayor's proposed changes, particularly Zoning for Quality and Affordability, or ZQA for short.
Much of the opposition comes from community boards, borough presidents and Council members who do not endorse the elimination of required parking lots for developments within a half-mile of public transportation.
LiveOn, in a separate study, found most senior residence lots are empty, but many residents and politicians say they need the parking because mass transit is inadequate.
Meanwhile members of the Council questioned the mayor's finance commissioner at a budget hearing Tuesday afternoon on the enrollment rate for the city's Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption program, or SCRIE.
A report the Department of Finance released in December of 2014 found only 39 percent of New Yorkers eligible for the break are receiving it.
On Tuesday, commissioner Jacques Jiha said that through a combination of outreach and a rise in the income limit, the city has enrolled an additional 11,289 people in SCRIE, bringing the total to 53,804.
"It's a very effective program and the easiest way to preserve affordable housing is keeping seniors in their apartments," Councilman Corey Johnson, a Manhattan Democrat, said after the hearing. "It's pretty expensive to build new senior housing so the more we can do to get seniors to take advantage of programs like SCRIE, that's a preservation tool that's completely in line with the mayor's goals."
He suggested a required rider attached to leases explaining the program to tenants.
Bobbie Sackman of LiveOn said City Hall has not done enough to inform seniors of the program.
"LiveOn New York remains concerned that the city has never done a broad-based, citywide, sustained public awareness campaign on SCRIE," she said. "The underutilization of SCRIE is due to the fact that most seniors simply do not know about it."
When they do fine out, she added, their rent increases are frozen at rates higher than what they can afford.