City owes seniors a better shake

Op-Ed

Posted

Senior citizens are the anchors of our communities, and we owe it to them to deliver services that allow them to live full, empowered lives.

But according to a report I released recently, New York is quickly growing older — and the city should do more to keep seniors safe and healthy in their homes and communities.

Between 2005 and 2015, the number of city residents 65 and older rose more than 19 percent — three times the rate of the rest of the population. By 2040, more than 1.4 million seniors will call the five boroughs home.

We need a comprehensive citywide planning effort to make sure that we can support this growing population and make New York City an even better place to grow old.

However, challenges abound. New York’s affordability crisis is hitting older residents especially hard. More than 40 percent of senior-headed households depend on government programs for more than half of their income, and more than 6-in-10 senior renters pay more than 30 percent of their income in rent.

Accessibility is also an obstacle. More than 35 percent of seniors in New York City live with a disability that can impair their mobility. But almost three-quarters of housing units are not fully accessible from the sidewalk without the use of stairs.

In addition, many of the programs and services that help seniors — from senior centers to bus benches — are not consistently located in the neighborhoods where older New Yorkers live, making it harder for our seniors to benefit.

That’s why our new report puts forward a comprehensive agenda to improve how we support older New Yorkers, so they can safely and affordably grow old in their homes and neighborhoods. It’s a blueprint that considers public transportation, aims to keep older New Yorkers in their homes, and proposes meaningful ways to help residents stay in the communities they love.

Proposals in my plan include:

• Helping tens of thousands of seniors — who often live on a fixed income and struggle to afford rent increases — enroll in the Senior Citizens Rent Increase Exemption, a pre-existing programs known as “SCRIE” that freezes their rent.

• Expanding eligibility for tax credits for older homeowners.

• Investing in infrastructure like benches, bus shelters, escalators and elevators — all can make a difference between a senior visiting a doctor or family member, or staying home and remaining isolated.

• Creating new requirements that compel landlords to make apartments age-friendly, and deliver safety upgrades as well as new programs to help homeowners finance safety and accessibility upgrades in their homes.

• Increasing funding for senior centers, which provide critical services including homecare, case management, and caregiver support — and ensuring these resources are deployed in neighborhoods with high concentrations of seniors.

We’re also calling on every city agency that serves seniors to work together to create a comprehensive, neighborhood-by-neighborhood plan because we need to think strategically about how to help New Yorkers grow old in the communities they call home.

We have a real opportunity today to tackle this challenge head-on, and I hope our blueprint will jumpstart a long-term conversation around services for seniors.

Scott Stringer, the former borough president of Manhattan, is the city’s comptroller.

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