Council approves expanded SCRIE, freezing more rents

Photos by Don Mathisen

BY SAM SPOKONY | The City Council on Wed., May 14 unanimously voted to expand a housing subsidy program that will now give a rent freeze to tens of thousands more seniors citywide.

The newly passed legislation, which was introduced last month by Councilmember Margaret Chin, will broaden eligibility for the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) program, which freezes rent for adults above age 62 who live in rent-regulated apartments, and whose rent exceeds one-third of their household income.

Currently, residents are eligible for SCRIE if their annual household income is $29,000 or less. Once the expansion goes into effect July 1, that income cap will be increased to $50,000 — a 72 percent increase that will allow roughly 24,000 more seniors to enter the program, which already serves 53,000 seniors.

“Today’s vote to increase SCRIE income eligibility is a major step forward in our goal to increase stable, affordable senior housing options in our city,” said Chin, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Aging, in a May 14 statement.

The expansion was made possible by a provision passed in the state Legislature’s budget on March 31, which allowed for increasing the income limit, and which was based on legislation that had previously been introduced by Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh. The state — whose approval is currently required for any such increase — will have to renew this expansion in 2016 in order to keep the income cap at $50,000.

Also on Wednesday, the City Council unanimously approved Chin’s resolution to call on the state Legislature to pass a bill that would remove that need for future state action to further broaden SCRIE eligibility.

The state bill, first introduced in January 2013, would require the SCRIE income cap to be adjusted each year to reflect any increase in the New York/northern New Jersey Consumer Price Index (C.P.I.), which tracks the cost of living within the region. Essentially, the program would expand alongside the rate of inflation.

“As the number of older adults living in New York increases, planning for and addressing the housing needs of seniors is a task our city must decisively and proactively address,” Chin said. “Linking SCRIE eligibility to regional C.P.I. is commonsense policy that will allow thousands of seniors to remain in the program without fear of losing their membership or their homes.”