With New Mayor Coming, Advocates Focus on Senior Housing

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Bill de Blasio's plan for senior housing emphasizes the SCRIE program. Joe Lhota backs a plan that would create 6,000 new units of senior housing, and use some of them to house seniors who vacate apartments at NYCHA complexes like the Robert Wagner Houses in East Harlem.

Photo by: Jarrett Murphy

Bill de Blasio's plan for senior housing emphasizes the SCRIE program. Joe Lhota backs a plan that would create 6,000 new units of senior housing, and use some of them to house seniors who vacate apartments at NYCHA complexes like the Robert Wagner Houses in East Harlem.

We often think of affordable housing as something young, middle-class families need. But senior citizens hunger for it, too. Just as stagnated wages make young workers struggle to pay rent, fixed income puts seniors—40 percent of whom are classified as very low income—in the same kind of bind. And as New York gets grayer (the over 65 population is expected to double between 2012 and 2060) the housing needs of seniors will become even more pressing. In a recent survey by AARP, half of seniors said affordable housing was a major issue. But with federal support for senior housing eroding, the next mayor will have to decide whether to take a lead on the issue.

So far, despite the fact that people over 65 are likely to make up about half the electorate on November 5, senior housing hasn't gotten much attention (not nearly as much as, say, charter schools, which serve about one in 25 public school students).

Republican Joe Lhota has endorsed the Housing First! plan, which calls for the creation or preservation of 150,000 units overall, earmarking 6,000 units for seniors—with the idea that some seniors now living in NYCHA apartments that are larger than they need would move into some of the new housing. Democrat Bill de Blasio's housing plan, which promises 190,000 units over 10 years, would aim to enroll more seniors in the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption program, SCRIE.

AARP endorsed the Housing First! plan, with Beth Finkel, State Director for AARP in New York State, saying in a statement: “The Housing First! plan is a great first step in the right direction.”

Both plans offer less detail and depth on the senior-housing front than on general housing strategy—although some of those general plans would help seniors along with everyone else. As far as specifics go, one could nitpick either plan. SCRIE—de Blasio's main senior-housing resource—is helpful but flawed. And to whatever extent it moved seniors from NYCHA to some of the 6,000 new senior units it envisions, the Housing First! plan isn't creating new senior housing, but rather moving seniors form one affordable setting to another (although the move would permit other families to use the vacated NYCHA units).

Given the trajectory of the mayoral campaign, it's not likely that Lhota or de Blasio are going to be forced to give more details on their plans before Election Day. Housing First!, a coalition that includes everyone from Bank of America to the Supportive Housing Network, says it is meeting soon with the Council of Senior Centers and Services and Leading Age to form a more detailed plan for housing seniors. After all, regardless of whether Lhota or de Blasio wins the race, if he serves two terms, the next mayor will join the Over-60 set while in office. Below is a breakdown of the de Blasio and Housing First! plans.

The de Blasio plan
190,000 units over 10 years

  • Mandatory inclusionary zoning to force developers making use of increased density to include affordable housing (50,000 new units)
  • Using $1 billion in pension funds to preserve 11,000 units.
  • Changing tax rates to spur development of vacant land and raise funds for affordable housing, creating 4,000 units.
  • Establishing a nonprofit land bank to preserve land for housing
  • Permitting developers to transfer development rights over a wider area
  • Lobbying to give the city control of rent laws now set by the state
  • Organizing efforts to help tenants
  • Better outreach and access to the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) and Disability Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE) programs
  • Legalizing basement apartments and “granny flats”
  • Tighter affordability rules to limit upper-income access to affordable units
  • Using HUD funding streams, community development corporations and streamlined Section 8 to help small landlords
  • Reining in water-rate increases
  • Improved maintenance for NYCHA
  • Reform homeless shelter eligibility rules, re-establish access to Section 8 for shelter residents

    The Housing First! Plan
    150,000 over eight years

  • Use existing capital commitments, $365 million in new funding per year, creative use of city land and federal subsidies and perhaps the sale of air rights over public property, to create 60,000 new units: 41,500 apartments for very low to middle-income families; 10,000 in supportive-housing apartments for formerly homeless and disabled; 6,000 senior apartments and 2,500 homeownership properties.
  • Target housing subsidies better to hit neglected income groups, neighborhoods that need economic balance, and projects that involve retail and other mixed uses
  • Preserve 90,000 units through mechanisms like “legislation raising the limit on profits for owners that extend affordability protections,” buying distressed multifamily mortgage notes and improving code enforcement.
  • Undertake upzonings to increase permitted housing density, and use voluntary inclusionary zoning to get developers to add affordable housing units in exchange for bonuses.
  • Reform 421a to more efficiently create affordable units
  • Change housing regulations and building code to give developers more flexibility
  • Help NYCHA by ending required payments to the city's general fund and developing available space on NYCHA properties
  • Implement programs to prevent foreclosures
  • legalizing basement apartments
  • Renewing shelter-residents' priority for Section 8

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