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By Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz

New York City is facing a shortage of affordable housing that exposes tenants to displacement from their communities and makes them more likely to become rent-burdened (meaning that more than 30 percent of the household’s income goes toward rent, which is contrary to housing-affordability standards). Despite facing the possibility of becoming rent-burdened, many residents in New York City prefer to rent an apartment instead of buying a house with a mortgage, as it could still work out cheaper than what the alternative could be. Unfortunately, in this circumstance, there is one age group that is likely to be affected more than others.

Seniors are more likely to be rent-burdened than other populations; close to 60 percent of senior renters are rent-burdened, according to a 2017 report by the New York City comptroller.

In addition to new construction, the preservation of our existing housing stock, be it public housing or not, is also crucial to address the housing crisis and homelessness epidemic. Policymakers at both the state and city levels have recognized the need for affordable housing, and each has supported the financing and development of new housing as well as the preservation of existing housing stock.

As part of this year’s enacted state budget, a statewide five-year, $2.5 billion spending plan for the creation and preservation of up to 6,000 supportive housing units and 100,000 affordable units was included. Some key investments serving seniors directly and indirectly include $125 million for low-income senior housing; $200 million for the New York City Housing Authority, which has more than 60,000 senior head-of-household families; and $100 million for the development of affordable housing in New York City, which will only be for households earning up to 60 percent area median income, or $51,450 for a family of three.

Throughout my time in the Assembly, I have worked to protect the quality of life, health, safety and independence of older adults. According to that same 2017 comptroller report, there are 1.1 million adults aged 65-plus living in New York City today, and that number is expected to increase to 1.4 million by the year 2040.

Rising rents, combined with the recent economic recession, have put a strain on seniors, and some may be facing difficult times in retirement. As a result, they struggle to remain in their homes or find housing options that suit their unique needs. The inclusion of the $125 million for low-income senior housing was very important to me, as were recent changes to the SCRIE/DRIE programs, both of which will go a long way toward providing much-needed affordable housing for seniors. In addition, I will continue to fight for the protection of our rent-regulated apartments, which are a proven method of ensuring affordability for renters of all ages.

Services that help seniors stay in their homes and age in place are also important. NORCs, or naturally occurring retirement communities, were established by the Legislature in 1994, and Neighborhood NORCs were created in 2005. These programs assist seniors who live in buildings and neighborhoods that were not originally built just for seniors, but are now home to a significant number of them. These individuals have aged in place, and NORCs, both classic and neighborhood, provide key supports to keep them in their communities.

In the most recent state budget, the Assembly fought for and managed to include in the enacted budget an additional $2 million in funding for these programs. This additional funding represents a renewed focus on wraparound services needed for seniors to live successfully in the community.

Affordable housing is very much tied to workforce availability and the vibrancy of our communities. It is a first step, and continued necessity, in the path to the American Dream. We cannot let millions of New Yorkers struggle to keep their heads above water.

We have a lot of work ahead of us.

Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz is chair of the NYS Assembly Housing Committee.

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