COUNCIL SHINES A LIGHT ON SENIOR RENTERS IN CRISIS, EXAMINES RENT STABILIZATION AND DIRECT PAYMENTS AS POTENTIAL SOLUTIONS

In Council News, Kendra Brooks, News by PHL Council

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The hearing focused on how the housing crisis impacts senior renters and identified policy solutions to increase access to affordable, long-term housing for this population.

Philadelphia—Today, City Council’s Committee on Intergenerational Affairs and Aging, chaired by Councilmember Kendra Brooks (At-Large), hosted its second in a series of public hearings on how the ongoing housing crisis is impacting senior Philadelphians. Bringing together senior-serving organizations, city leaders, policy experts, and senior citizens, testimonies highlighted the urgent need for action to keep senior renters from eviction and displacement, and identified potential solutions to increase access to safe, affordable housing.

In the spring, Councilmember Brooks kicked off the series by leading a public hearing focused on the precarious situation of senior homeowners in the city, who face a number of pressing issues, including tangled titles, unaffordable estate planning, and rising costs of home repairs. Building off many of the themes highlighted during that hearing, today’s committee hearing covered the issues facing senior renters, who, according to the Mayor’s Commission on Aging, make up approximately 86,000 of households in Philadelphia.

“The COVID-19 pandemic prompted urgent, targeted aid to our most vulnerable community members, including our elderly neighbors,” said Councilmember Kendra Brooks (At-Large), Chair of the Committee on Intergenerational Affairs and Aging. “We must act with that same urgency to pursue bold, long-term solutions to the growing crises faced by senior renters in Philadelphia. It is unconscionable that we could allow our elders to be put out on the street simply because their monthly fixed incomes do not keep pace with skyrocketing rent prices, but that is what will happen if we do not act. This committee hearing laid out the issues facing senior renters and identified clear solutions to explore, and it is our shared responsibility as city leaders to heed these recommendations.”

Senior renters joined the public hearing to provide emotional testimony as they shared their experiences navigating the dire shortage of affordable rental housing and lamented the broken social safety net for older adults in the city.

Juliano Jima, a 67-year-old former immigrant and U.S. citizen with a disability was brought to tears as he pleaded with City Council to help him avoid eviction and urged them to assist others like him. Jima worked as a taxi driver until 2007, when an accident left him unable to work. His monthly fixed income is $800 and he pays $700 in rent, leaving him only $100 to cover utilities and other expenses.

“I share my story because my landlord has been threatening to evict me. I have no family, and nowhere to go. And this issue is one many other seniors within this city are also facing,” said Jima. “I have been waitlisted for disabled senior housing for 4 years now. I have attempted to find alternative housing, but nothing is affordable. All landlords are seeking rent over $800 for a one bedroom and want hefty security deposits. I am scared. I am worried to be on the streets. I have no one to help care for me. I am asking this council today to put some love in your hearts and to help seniors in this city, who are facing issues just like me. Help me. Help us.”

Rental rates in Philadelphia have increased 21% between 2000 and 2018, while many of the city’s seniors rely on a fixed income that cannot keep pace with market prices. Additionally, many of the socialized benefits that seniors rely on to survive impose a cap on what a recipient is able to spend on rental housing, limiting their options as rental unit prices rise. While the median monthly cost for rental properties in Philadelphia is $1,032 per month, many rental facilities targeted towards seniors, including assisted-living facilities, private nursing homes, or continuing care retirement communities have rents upwards of $1,000 per month. For many seniors living with disabilities and in need of accessible, first-floor housing, these prices make it practically impossible for elderly community members to secure rental housing that meets their needs.

While some programs exist to support seniors with disabilities, many suffer from long waitlists and are not equipped to accommodate the rising number of senior Philadelphians, as baby boomers age. Further, Philadelphia is currently experiencing a net loss of available affordable housing units, as it is not developing new and rehabilitated affordable housing units at a pace to match the annual loss of already-existing affordable units.

Terez Giuliana, a community member, shared her experiences trying to help her elderly neighbors, brothers named Joe and Marty, secure affordable rental housing, emphasizing the number of structural barriers that low-income seniors face.

“The waiting time to get into senior subsidized housing is shameful, with no accommodation for an emergency situation,” said Giuliana. “The application process, with a separate packet for each building, is onerous and unwieldy. The supply of affordable housing in the midst of a building boom is negligible. What is going to become of Joe and Marty if they are evicted? Having done homeless outreach, I know of no shelter that could accommodate their respective disabilities and keep them together. We cannot watch two elderly disabled brothers be put out onto the street. We are desperate and we need help.”

During the hearing, local advocates with direct experience serving low-income senior renters echoed the concerns raised, implored City Council to continue its focus on this issue and prescribed potential policy solutions for Council to explore.

“While the housing crisis is something this council is painfully aware of, seniors face additional burdens compared to the average tenant,” said Daniel Hyman, Tenants’ Rights Staff Attorney at SeniorLAW Center. “This is not a crisis without some potential solutions. We recommend that the city’s Licensing and Inspections Department prioritize complaints from elders…and consider rent stabilization for long-term tenants who can pay current rent but risk being forced out of their homes by rapid rent increases.”

“As we all know that Philadelphia is one the largest cities with a high-cost burdened population. The lack of affordable housing, the rise in tax assessments, and the need for home modifications to facilitate ‘aging in place’ remain major issues in our community,” said Valda Branison, an AARP Pennsylvania volunteer. “I ask that we not go back to our normal; I am here to ask instead that together we become champions of the co-created solutions toward the ongoing housing crisis that impacts senior Philadelphia residents – that we create better access, better protection, and better availability of resources. I urge you to elevate the ongoing nuances and needs of our elderly population.”

“Older adults are at higher risk of being housing insecure with nearly half of older Philadelphians with an income of less than $24,000/year. 82% of LSH’s senior community center members have a low income,” said Meg Finley, Director of Senior Services and Nutrition Programs at Lutheran Settlement House. “Many of our members have lived in the neighborhood their entire lives and wish to stay in the homes or in the neighborhood as they age. As we support our members, housing is a consistent and challenging problem. We expect that this will only increase in the coming years as the baby boomer generation enters older adulthood.”

Councilmember Brooks and the Committee on Aging and Intergenerational Affairs plan to host three additional hearings, which will focus, respectively, on seniors experiencing homelessness or who are in shelter care; seniors living in nursing homes or long-term residential facilities; and seniors who are incarcerated.

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