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Testimony for Assembly Hearing of
Task Force on Disability & Committee on Housing

Alexander Wood
Executive Director
Disabilities Network of NYC

April 30, 2004

Good morning. It's good to see the members of the Assembly Committee on Housing and the Taskforce on Disability here in NYC. Thank you for conducting this hearing. I am here with my colleagues today to speak on behalf of the NYSILC Housing Committee and the NYC Disability Budget & Policy Coalition about successfully enacting legislation that would extend the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) to include eligible low-income people with disabilities under 60. For years the community has advocated for this measure, and despite coming close, the proposed change has never come about.

New Yorkers with disabilities are facing a deepening housing crisis. I just got off the phone with Ms. Greenberg, a woman living in a Mitchell-Lama in Manhattan whose only income is a monthly SSDI check, and she is concerned that she will be evicted because she cannot afford to paint her apartment, and the lease agreement she has holds her responsible for maintaining the apartment. In order to find solutions for people like her we need to develop user-friendly policy and work with legislators interested in housing issues and staff of relevant agencies to develop a comprehensive housing strategy to address the housing needs of New Yorkers with disabilities, particularly those people with disabilities who have extremely low, low and moderate incomes.

New York State’s SCRIE program recognizes the need to assist low-income senior citizens who are vulnerable because they cannot afford to pay rising rents or afford to relocate to alternate housing.  Low-income people with disabilities face these same challenges and face additional expenses in order to accommodate their disability.  A SCRIE-like program for people with disabilities would exempt low-income tenants with disabilities from rent increases if they live in rent-controlled, rent-stabilized or Mitchell-Lama Housing.  Once eligible tenants enter the program, they would continue paying the same rent every year, and their landlords would receive a tax abatement to cover the lost rent.  This is less costly than having a tenant with a disability leave home and become homeless or move to subsidized housing, public housing, or an institution at the expense of taxpayers.

The Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) prevents seniors on low, fixed incomes from becoming homeless. Non-senior people with disabilities need the same level of economic dedication from NYC.

Every New Yorker deserves to live in housing that is safe, independently navigable and affordable for their income level. For many NYC dwellers, finding affordable housing is a serious problem. For New Yorkers with disabilities, finding accessible, affordable housing is an even more daunting task. Maintaining housing despite escalating rent renewals from the Rent Guidelines Board further exacerbates these problems.

The history of advocacy for the passage of this measure is way too long. The New York State Temporary Commission on Rental Housing recommended extending SCRIE to people with disabilities in 1980. The New York State Assembly has repeatedly approved legislation allowing NYC an extension of the Senior Citizens Rent Increase Exemption Program (SCRIE) to include low-income people with disabilities. NYC should have the authority to extend the SCRIE program to provide this needed rent abatement to low-income people with disabilities whose inability to pay rent increases jeopardizes their housing, and if you do what you have to do in Albany again to make this happen, we will do what we have to on the local level.

According to NYC’s Independent Budget Office, raising the income threshold for qualifying SCRIE applicants and expanding the program to include non-elderly, low-income people with disabilities would cost NYC just over $2 million in the first year, rising to $12 million in the fifth year of expansion. This cost is relatively low compared to the costs of building new affordable housing. The recent economic downturns have escalated the need for affordable housing. While SCRIE does not build much-needed new housing units, it does preserve the existing affordable housing that is so necessary in NYC.

Housing one person in the NYC shelter system now exceeds $25,000 each year, and the annual cost of nursing home care exceeds $90,000. Without rental increase abatement, such as the extension of the SCRIE program, it is clear that many people with disabilities will become homeless.

The biggest obstacle to the expansion of the SCRIE program has been and remains the opposition of NYC’s Mayoral administration.  Without the support of the Bloomberg administration, the State Senate and the Governor will not approve the expansion of the program.  We call on the administration and the City Council to proactively voice their support. During his campaign, Mayor Bloomberg pledged to support the expansion of the SCRIE program to assist more tenants in need of assistance. We hope that this support, and the backing of the City Council, will result the removal of the last remaining legislative obstacle and lead to immediate local implementation.

Thank you.


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