City pushing rent freeze programs on East Side
By Sabina Mollot
Last Thursday, the city rolled out what’s it’s calling East Side Rent Freeze Month, a series of events in October aimed at getting eligible New Yorkers signed up for programs that would exempt them from rent hikes, including MCIs (major capital improvements).
The reason for the push was that in Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village alone, 800 eligible tenants have yet to sign up for the programs. According to Jacques Jiha, the city’s finance commissioner, the number of eligible people citywide is 80,000, and many of them are East Siders.
“The East Side of Manhattan has the highest number of eligible participants,” said Jiha, as he stood outside Stuyvesant Town’s Community Center with local elected officials and tenants for a press conference. “During the month we’ll sign up as many eligible seniors and people with disabilities as possible.”
The programs are Senior Citizens Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) and Disability Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE), which are for seniors and disabled people, respectively, who pay more than a third of their incomes in rent and have household incomes of $50,000 or less.
While the tenants’ rents can’t climb higher than they were when they enrolled in the program, the landlord still gets the money from increases via property tax credits.
“In essence, landlords are paid by the city,” said Jiha. “This is not charity.”
However, it is a break for participants in the programs, with 55 percent of SCRIE participants considered to be extremely rent burdened, meaning they pay more than half of their incomes in rent. Jiha pointed out that with a basic median income of $11,000, after paying rent, seniors are then left with $183 to pay for food and other basic necessities.
“For too many seniors it means the difference between paying for their medicine or paying their rent,” he said.
Council Member Dan Garodnick, who was standing alongside Jiha, added that when he learned how many of his neighbors in ST/PCV weren’t taking advantage of the rent freeze programs, “I almost fell off my chair.
“It’s available but either they’re unaware or there are other reasons they’re not participating,” he said.
State Senator Brad Hoylman pointed out that a recent study of neighborhoods in the city most vulnerable to rent hikes, conducted by the Association of Neighborhood and Housing Development, showed that Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper was a “bright red and orange blot” on the heat map.
Also at the event was Stuyvesant Town General Manager Rick Hayduk, who said residents will have the opportunity learn more about the programs onsite.
“We’re excited about ow many enrollees we’re going to find here,” he said.
The first enrollment event on SCRIE/DRIE at Stuyvesant Town will be on October 4 from 1-4 p.m. at the Community Center, 449 East 14th Street. Other events at the location will take place on October 6 from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and October 7 from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. A schedule of additional events throughout the city is now online.
According to representatives for the Department of Finance, it doesn’t matter what applicants have in their bank accounts, and they are allowed to own a property somewhere as long as the apartment they’re filing for SCRIE or DRIE for is their primary residence. If they earn income from the other property, that amount along with any other income they earn can’t exceed $50,000.Applicants are also allowed to have a roommate, though the roommate’s portion of the rent is considered income. The roommate’s income wouldn’t however be factored into what is considered household income. In cases of family members living together, all incomes must be reported as household income. As for DRIE, applicants must be at least 18 and must be the tenant on the lease to qualify. SCRIE applicants must be 62 or older and the tenant on the lease.
Tenants would be ineligible if they live in NYCHA housing, non-rent regulated housing, use Section 8 vouchers or are subletting, even if it’s in a rent-regulated apartment.
ST-PCV Tenants Association President Susan Steinberg said she hoped the push to get more SCRIE/DRIE enrollees would help the community’s many seniors.
“We have quite a few tenants who’ve aged in place and we’re at the point of almost being a NORC (naturally occurring retirement community) although not quite,” she said.
In somewhat related news, as for those four MCI rent increases that StuyTown Property Services recently announced it would be filing for, when asked why the owner was filing for four at once, Hayduk said they’d actually be filed separately.
Despite the announcement about all four, the filings would be sent in a “staggered” fashion to the state housing agency, which apparently is how MCIs have always been applied for in ST/PCV.
The MCIs that are now pending are for video intercoms for Peter Cooper Village buildings, wheelchair ramps at two buildings in Stuy Town, waterproofing work and water heaters. If approved, management estimates that the projects will cost tenants an average of $8 per apartment per month permanently.