As NYC’s Senior Population Surges, Comptroller Stringer Releases New Report and Calls for Strategic City Planning
With the number of NYC seniors skyrocketing, new report lays out comprehensive proposals to support the growing population
City faces an imbalance between where New Yorkers are aging and where programs and services – like senior centers – are located
Analysis highlights the need for holistic, agency-by-agency approach
Today, New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer called on the City to launch an agency-by-agency, neighborhood-by-neighborhood approach to serving its seniors. Unveiling a new a report – entitled “Aging with Dignity: A Blueprint for Serving NYC’s Growing Senior Population” – the Comptroller highlighted current challenges and the need for additional support for New York City’s senior population now and in the future. While calling for the city to perform long-term, comprehensive planning, the blueprint lays out specific proposals that will be necessary to better serve New Yorkers aged 65 and older.
“We need to act today – not tomorrow. Seniors are the anchors of our communities, and we must ensure they have the support they deserve. We need to have an all-hands-on-deck approach, from every City agency, because this is too important. As we face significant demographic changes, we need to reimagine how we support our current and future seniors,” New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer said. “We hope these specific ideas and this blueprint will jumpstart a long-term conversation in the City — and help develop a long-term strategy — about how to deliver for New Yorkers for decades to come. Our approach should help more New Yorkers stay in their homes and age in place — it’s cheaper, it’s smarter, it allows New Yorkers to remain involved in their communities. Most importantly, it’s the right thing to do, and now is the time to act.”
Currently, New York City’s seniors face affordability, transit, housing and other obstacles. As the City’s population ages, so too does the urgency for holistic planning:
A Rising Population
From 2005 to 2015, the number of New Yorkers over 65 years old surged by 19.2 percent. That is more than triple the rate of growth for the population under age 65.
The number of New Yorkers aged 65 and older has grown in each borough over the last ten years, with the population growing fastest in Staten Island and the Bronx.
By 2040, city planners expect there will be 1.4 million older adults living in New York City – an increase of hundreds of thousands of people from today.
Yet, currently, the Department for the Aging’s budget is just 0.4 percent of total City expenditures – equivalent to about $300 per New Yorker over the age of 65.
That’s while New York City senior centers—visited by over 29,680 seniors daily—served over 160,000 New Yorkers in FY16.
Over 40 percent of senior-headed households depend on government programs for more than half their income, with Social Security benefits comprising more than half of incomes for 397,000 senior-headed households.
Six out of 10 senior renters spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent – a significantly higher percentage than the general population.
Accessibility and Transit
More than 35 percent of seniors in NYC are living with a disability that can impair their mobility. Yet, data show that 61 percent of residential units in NYC do not have a wheelchair accessible entrance and 68 percent of housing units are not accessible from the sidewalk without the use of stairs.
Adults over 65 – despite being 13 percent of the City’s population – made up 39 percent of all pedestrian fatalities in 2014.
As the NYC population ages, the MTA expects Access-A-Ride usage to double to more than 14 million trips for New Yorkers by 2022, up from six million trips in 2015. Yet, a Comptroller’s Office audit showed that Access-A-Ride vehicles failed to show up for a scheduled trip more than 31,000 times in 2015.
Certain neighborhoods across the city have large numbers of seniors, but relatively few senior centers or amenities like bus shelter or accessible subway stops – a challenge that must be addressed since it deprives seniors of services and because New York City will undergo further demographic changes.
Though the City has 24,798 bus stops, only about one quarter have bus shelters, which are critical for seniors to travel. And despite its stated purpose, the City Bench program is not serving neighborhoods with a large number of seniors. Further, the community districts with the highest numbers of seniors generally have the fewest number of City bus benches.
Despite widespread documentation of these challenges, the City is not engaged in a comprehensive planning process for it seniors. As such, today, the Comptroller called for a cohesive, long-term planning process from the City in order to streamline services and develop a holistic strategy. Serving seniors should not be the job of the Department for the Aging alone. Almost all City agencies serve seniors, and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the Department of Transportation, Department of Housing Preservation and Development, Department of Consumer Affairs, Department of Finance and others that offer direct services to seniors should be engaged in a robust, coordinated planning process.
To plan for the City’s demographic changes, the Comptroller’s report emphasizes the importance of keeping seniors in their homes and communities, a policy known as “aging in place.” Aging in place – rather than in nursing homes or institutional settings – is not only the preference of the vast majority of older New Yorkers, but research has demonstrated that it can be five times more cost-effective in serving the City’s swelling senior population.
This report offers a specific “aging in place agenda” for New York City based on three broad goals with specific proposals:
Freezing rents by automatically enrolling New Yorkers in the Senior Citizens Rent Increase Exemption: Additional senior renters can more easily remain in their apartments if they are automatically enrolled in the Senior Citizens Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) program, which freezes their rent. This change would add an estimated 26,000 seniors to the program.
Mitigating affordability challenges by expanding tax credits through the Senior Citizens Homeowners’ Exemption:To support seniors who own their homes, the City should expand eligibility for the Senior Citizens Homeowners’ Exemption to cover those with incomes up to $50,000. That would make approximately 29,000 more homeowners eligible for the program and mitigate affordability challenges.
Transforming age-friendly home improvements: The City should establish a program that helps seniors make their homes age-friendly through enhanced requirements on landlords, or new tax credits for homeowners, that finance modifications like widened doors, grab bars in bathrooms, and no-slip surfaces, as other cities already have.
Developing More Liveable Communities
Creating tailored, neighborhood action plans by expanding the Age-Friendly Neighborhoods program: In 2010, the City launched the “Age-Friendly Neighborhoods” program, which created neighborhood action plans for over a dozen neighborhoods to better support seniors. To do long-term planning, that program should be expanded significantly so communities can pinpoint their needs in a local way.
Eliminating senior center deserts by strengthening investments: Senior centers are not consistently located in places with a large number of seniors, which may be preventing seniors in certain neighborhoods from benefitting from services. Currently, certain neighborhoods– like Bensenhurst, Bayside, Queens Village, Cambria Heights, Tottenville, and others – with large number of seniors have relatively few options. Studies show that seniors who do not utilize senior centers cite inconvenient locations as one of the top five reasons they do not attend. Additional funding and modernization of our senior centers is necessary to not only eliminate senior center deserts, but also to prepare for an aging population.
Significantly increasing bus shelters and benches, and bolstering the Safe Streets for Seniors program:Just one fourth of all bus stops have shelters, and fourteen of the 20 community districts with the largest number of seniors have among the lowest ratio of benches per 10,000 seniors. The ability to travel is central to supporting older New Yorkers as they age in place, and sometimes a bus shelter or bench can be the deciding factor for seniors’ ability to travel. The City and State can improve accessibility to public transportation by adding more bus shelters, benches, elevators, and escalators.
Supporting the Well-Being of Older New Yorkers
Invest in citywide programs that support seniors’ health, well-being, and independence: The City can increase the number of Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs), enhance support for caregivers, and provide additional resources for DFTA’s homecare and case management programs. In addition, through agency planning, the City can encourage more seniors to take advantage of Medicare’s free annual wellness screening, improve Social Security’s annual cost of living adjustment, and match the federal retirement savings tax credit with local funds.