The Senior Housing Crisis is Already Here

 Mayor de Blasio discussing his plans for senior housing (mayor's office)

Mayor de Blasio discussing his plans for senior housing (mayor's office)

At the risk of beginning to sound like a broken record, this post will examine another clear and present danger within the affordable housing crisis: the lack of senior housing.  As the Baby Boomer generation passes 60 and begins to retire en masse, the numbers of seniors on fixed incomes will begin to rise dramatically and will put even greater pressure on housing needs across the nation.  With the increase in life expectancy (for some Americans anyway) this means that a lot of older people with specific housing needs will need them soon and for a very long time into the future. As is the case across the board, we are simply not creating enough housing to manage this issue.

The numbers in New York City are illustrative of the current problem and of the problems to come.  New Yorkers over 60 represent the fastest growing demographic in the city, at nearly 20% of the population - up from 12% in 2000.  Vicki Been, Mayor de Blasio's housing commissioner, told the City Council in February that the numbers of seniors in NYC could reach 1.8 million by 2040, which would double the number in 2000.

The big secondary problem with these numbers is the fact that 20% of current seniors in NYC,  including 40% of NYCHA residents, live in poverty ($11,170 a year). Of renter households headed by older residents, half are rent burdened, meaning they pay over a third of their monthly income on rent. And according to LiveOn NY, a senior citizen advocacy group, over 100,000 pay over 50% of their income to rent.  This makes older residents the most rent burdened demographic in the city and puts many at risk of losing their homes if costs keep climbing across the board.

 For whom the bell tolls (nytimes/uni. of minnesota)

For whom the bell tolls (nytimes/uni. of minnesota)

Mayor de Blasio's housing plan, which is expected to pass the City Council soon, has been the most comprehensive attempt to address the crisis to date and has a number of good ideas. Specifically, his Zoning for Quality and Affordability proposal would allow taller and larger buildings with less parking closer to transit centers and reduce parking requirements for senior housing sites. This would allow more land and capital to go to building more units.

The housing plan would also increase the funding and support for the Senior Citizens Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) which currently freezes the rent for 53,000 seniors in NYC and covers the difference in cost for the landlord. The plan would try to cover the estimated 80,000 other seniors who qualify but are not currently enrolled.  This is a type of program that could spiral out of control if other measures are not taken to address housing costs, but it is working right now and needs to be expanded to the many seniors who can't enroll.

Finally, the plan indirectly attempts to support "aging in place" that allows seniors to remain in their homes for as long as possible and to maintain their dignity and quality of life.  The plan calls for a number of measure to preserve the existing stock of affordable housing including rent controlled and rent-stabilized apartments.  These measures have a significant impact on this issue because  65% of older New Yorkers live in these types of apartments.  Whether these residents are self-sustaining or paying through government programs, policies in Albany will have a major say in how long they are able to stay in their homes.

No plan is perfect and there are concerns that the measures won't do enough, for senior housing or for the overall affordability of the city. However, most of the outspoken critics, including Real Affordability for All,  have now endorsed the plan and it should become law.  

This type of buy-in important going forward because the plan will surely have to evolve as needs change and the proposals begin to show returns one way or the other.  Having as many stakeholders as possible involved in this process is the only way to ensure that we can make the types of policies that have a lasting affect - because many of us hope to age in place in NYC as well.