City announces changes to NYC Rent Freeze Program

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The de Blasio administration announced last Wednesday that the city will now be able to freeze rents at the preferential level for tenants eligible for the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) and Disabled Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE).

“For far too long, thousands of low-income older adults and people with disabilities with preferential were unable to benefit from NYC’s Rent Freeze Programs,” said State Senator Liz Kruger, who is also the prime sponsor of preferential rent legislation. “I am extremely happy that New York State’s new rent laws finally eliminated the preferential rent loophole, making it possible for tenants with preferential rents to benefit from SCRIE and DRIE.”

The legal rent of a rent-stabilized apartment is based on the unique history of the unit and is the maximum legal rent for each apartment. Preferential rent is rent that a landlord charged to a rent-regulated tenant that is lower than the legal rent.

SCRIE and DRIE, known collectively as the NYC Rent Freeze Program, is administered by the Department of Finance and helps eligible seniors and New Yorkers with disabilities stay in affordable housing by freezing their rent. The programs are available to eligible tenants living in rent-regulated apartments. To qualify for SCRIE, residents must be at least 62 years old, the head of household on the lease, have a combined household income of $50,000 or less and spend more than one-third of their monthly household income on rent. DRIE is available to tenants who are  at least 18 years old, are named on the lease, have a combined household income of $50,000 or less and must be awarded one of the following: Federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI); Federal Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI); U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs disability pension or disability compensation; disability-related Medicaid if the applicant has received either SSI or SSDI in the past; or the United States Postal Service (USPS) disability pension or disability compensation.

As Town & Village reported last November, Stuyvesant Town has in the past been one of the top ten neighborhoods that is under-enrolled for the rent freeze programs. The Department of Finance announced the stats in a report released last fall, noting that only 43% of eligible tenants were enrolled in SCRIE in the neighborhood and for DRIE, enrollment was at 27%.

Under SCRIE and DRIE, a property tax credit covers the difference between the actual rent and the amount that tenants are responsible for paying at the frozen rate. According to the city, there are 74,666 households enrolled in both programs. Previously, residents who qualified for SCRIE and DRIE needed their rent to reach the legal level before their rent could be frozen.

The Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act that the State Legislature passed in June locks in preferential rent for rent-stabilized tenants for the length of a tenancy rather than for the length of a lease.

For more information, to apply for the programs or to check eligibility, tenants can visit nyc.gov/rentfreeze. The city’s Public Engagement Unit and the Department of Finance will be canvassing targeted neighborhoods and buildings with outreach teams and will also be distributing information at public meetings to enroll as many people as possible in the Rent Freeze program.

“The city’s rent freeze programs have given tens of thousands of New Yorkers peace of mind and housing stability,” de Blasio said. “Now that we can freeze preferential rents, the program will bring even more relief.”

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