Shelly Nortz, CFH Deputy Executive Director for Policy, issued the following statement in support of legislation to enable more tenants to qualify for the Disability Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE) program. You can read her Memorandum of Support on the legislation here.
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Good morning. My name is Shelly Nortz, and I serve as Deputy Executive Director for Policy for the Coalition for the Homeless. I would like to illustrate the benefits of the legislation we are advancing today by telling a story about one of our clients whom I will refer to as Gloria in order to protect her privacy.
Gloria is a military veteran with a disability who previously shared a home with her elderly mother. She recently came to us facing eviction and certain homelessness. People with disabilities find themselves living in shelters for longer periods of time than other homeless people, often because affordable apartments that accommodate people using wheelchairs, who have visual impairments, or who need room for an aide are rare finds.
When Gloria's mother passed away late last year, she discovered rent arrears that had accrued before her mother’s death. And then the landlord told her she had no right to continue living in the rent stabilized apartment because she was not the lease holder.
Gloria's mother had previously participated in SCRIE, but Gloria was not old enough to qualify for SCRIE. Even if she were able to get the lease established in her own name, without the ability to continue having her rent frozen, it would increase to an unaffordable level and she would eventually fall into arrears and once again face eviction.
Fortunately, three solutions came together to help Gloria stay in her home. Working with The Legal Aid Society, she was able to secure succession rights to the apartment. With our assistance she applied to and was approved for the Disability Rent Increase Exemption program. This brought her rent back down to an amount she could manage with her modest disability benefits. Having her rent frozen in turn established Gloria's ability to qualify for one-time assistance to clear the rental arrears: She was able to show her ability to pay her rent in the future based on her fixed income and her frozen rent.
Again with the help of the Coalition for the Homeless, the arrears on Gloria apartment have been paid and she will be able to continue living in her childhood home with affordable rent and avoid what might have been a years-long journey into homelessness.
Gloria's eviction story has a happy ending, but for other veterans and people who are no longer able to work because of a disability, stories like this have a very different ending.
For example, disabled veterans with 100 percent disability ratings have incomes that rise above the current DRIE income limits, even though they may be paying more than half of that income toward rent. By contrast, a veteran with a 70 percent disability rating may be eligible for DRIE when their rent burden is just one-third of their income because their income is lower due to the lower disability rating.
Similarly, a person who is no longer able to work due to a disability may have income consisting of Social Security Disability benefits and a small pension but be denied DRIE because their income of $24,000 exceeds the income limit for the program, even though their rent consumes 45 percent of their income.
The aim of this legislation is to correct these inequities and ensure that people with disabilities have the same access to rent increase exemptions as senior citizens. Prevention is the most cost effective solution to homelessness, and SCRIE and DRIE are model forms of prevention.
The Coalition for the Homeless is grateful for the leadership Senator Diane Savino and Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh have shown in working to fix this small but important problem for our neighbors with disabilities. By raising the income limits for those with disabilities to the same limits as senior citizens, this legislation will protect vulnerable New Yorkers, like veterans with 100 percent disability ratings. It also will make the transitions between SCRIE and DRIE more seamless when there is a change in household composition, so that low income people with disabilities do not lose their rent increase exemptions.
It is an affordable and cost effective solution worth enacting in Albany before the end of Session. Thank you.