‘It is still our responsibility’: Officials say that more senior housing is needed in New York City

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Senior housing was primary focus of symposium where elected officials . Here, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Councilman Rafael Salamanca of the Bronx discuss policy. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

More affordable senior housing is needed in New York City to help those pressed by rising rents that’s squeezing out poor elderly and resulting in some ending up in homeless shelters.

This was the crux of a symposium at City University of New York graduate Center in Manhattan entitled “Beyond Bricks: Affordable Senior Housing with Services this morning. The symposium, led by LiveOn NY, hosted elected officials and experts in the field discussed ways to improve life for seniors and make sure they are housed rather than sheltered.

While many had ideas, all seemed to agree that the Federal Government was not doing its part to help keep seniors in their homes or funding projects to promote affordable housing for seniors. Also, some communities have opposed senior housing as being out of place in their neighborhoods.

Among those on an elected official panel were Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, Bronx Council Members Rafael Salamanca and Robert Cornegy Jr. Joining them was Scott Short, CEO of RiseBoro Community Partnership that focuses on senior housing and making it financially feasible.

“I have no faith in the federal government with the orange man doing crazy things,” said Williams, describing President Donald Trump doing little to helps indigent seniors. “Secretary Ben Carson (of Housing and Urban Development) is in a sunken place. We’ve advocated for resources to build senior housing, but we’ve gotten no place with the federal government, but it is still our responsibility.”

Williams also criticized Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo as having “failed policies” despite both of them having worked at HUD at one time or another. He specifically criticized NYCHA and called on them to “stop lying to us.”

Senior housing was primary focus of symposium where elected officials (Photo by Todd Maisel)

Councilman Salamanca said there were 63,000 people in shelter beds last night, with a large number of them senior citizens.

“We really don’t need more shelters — we need more housing for these seniors,” Salamanca said. “While we can’t always say no to shelters, what we really need is to get more permanent housing for seniors.”

Senior housing was primary focus of symposium where elected officials talked about policy, including Councilman Rafael Salamanca. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

Officials agreed that most of the new housing being built was luxury housing, while senior housing was being constructed in poor neighborhoods. They also questioned what was considered “affordable” as many seniors end up on public assistance.

Williams was particularly worried about what was considered affordable.

“When developers offer 70-80 percent affordable for seniors, it’s affordable to who?” Williams asked.

Short said some well-intentioned rules have also gone astray and led to developers offering less senior housing than was intended. He said that while developers get bonuses for building senior housing, Section 8 limits what they can offer.

Also standing in the way of some senior housing has been the “not in my backyard,” or NIMBY, syndrome. In one case, a neighborhood in Chinatown opposed building senior housing entitled “Haven Green” and some interests opposed the housing creating legal challenges that have held up that project.

Williams said the answer to NIMBY was to keep the community engaged in the conversation.

“There are some communities who want to remain the same — but if the city looks like it does in 100 years, then we failed,” Williams said. “So if we build 10 stories for senior housing, may be we should be allowed to go a few more stories.”

Salamanca said they have been locating empty lots to develop into senior housing and he stressed that elected officials should be more a part of local government on the community board level to understand land use process and zoning rules. He said by understanding these issues, elected officials would know how to promote senior housing.

Councilman Cornegy said building more senior housing will take more community and private partnerships and dedicated policy decisions to promote housing. He said he was creating a task-force that would help identify places to build senior housing and identify financing.

“We really need to find ways to keep seniors in their own homes,” he said, realizing that putting seniors into nursing homes was much more expensive and not good for seniors.

Officials all agreed that city residents needed to both vote and fill out the 2020 census to maintain proper representation in government.

Senior housing was primary focus of symposium where elected officials discussed strategy and policies. (Photo by Todd Maisel)