Pol calls for moratorium on notices to recipients
By Sabina Mollot
Last week, thousands of tenants enrolled in SCRIE/DRIE rent increase subsidy programs learned that their benefits may end up getting reduced or eliminated altogether. The notification came by way of letters from the Department of Finance to around 5,700 people.
The programs subsidize rent increases that are faced by seniors and disabled people, respectively, who are making under $50,000 and whose rent takes up a third of their incomes.
The benefits however could expire when they attempt to renew them, according to Upper West Side City Council Member Helen Rosenthal who said last week she was approached by numerous concerned tenants who didn’t know what the letters they’d received meant.
Those letters have since been blasted by Rosenthal as being full of “technical jargon” with little detail, and she and a few other Council members have called on the Department of Finance to rescind them and not send any more until January, 2016. A moratorium, she explained, would give tenants time to plan for any changes.
Additionally, “We’re trying to understand what it means as well,” said Rosenthal of herself and her Council colleagues.
When she asked the Department of Finance why they were sent, she said she was told that previously there hadn’t been a mechanism to track whether or not recipients’ incomes were in fact one third of their rent, and now there is.
With many people enrolled in both programs living on fixed incomes, Rosenthal called the potential hikes, which she said on average would be $86, significant.
“These are people who are living on their benefits, so let’s make sure the math is right,” she said.
Rosenthal said this figure came from city data she acquired. The New York Post reported that all together, 625 households with seniors could lose their benefits completely, while 4,848 could see reductions in benefits.
Ironically, shortly after tenants received the letters, a representative from the DOF was speaking at a housing clinic Rosenthal had organized on the topic of enrolling in SCRIE and DRIE.
SCRIE is the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption, and DRIE is Disabilities Rent Increase Exemption.
Tenants at the event had peppered the speaker with questions about the letters only to be told that “it’s not a big deal,” recalled the Council member. Additionally, she said speakers said they’d “get somebody to call you about it. We don’t know what it is.”
Remaining questions however are what kind of rent increases individual tenants would see and if there’s an opportunity to appeal a decision once it’s made.
Along with Rosenthal, Council members to call for the moratorium were Margaret Chin, Mark Levine, Andrew Cohen and Ydanis Rodriguez. Council Member Dan Garodnick, meanwhile, said he is also concerned about his constituents potentially being booted from their homes.
“I think we have to find a way where this is not quite so sudden for people,” he said.
When asked for comment about the letters and the Council members’ request, Sonia Alleyne, a spokesperson for the Department of Finance, insisted that despite the letter, nothing has actually changed for seniors in the programs.
“The SCRIE subsidy is still totally in place and the city is following all guidelines according to New York State law,” Alleyne said. “Additionally, the formula and method to determine such benefits for seniors is unchanged.”
She confirmed what Rosenthal said about the city reviewing renewals to make sure tenants qualify for the programs and added that the letters were in response to an audit from the comptroller of the Disabled Homeowners’ Exemption last month. The audit revealed abuse of that program, which in some cases, was due to people collecting benefits from dead family members.
There was no response on whether the Department of Finance would consider a moratorium on the notices.