As headlines of nursing home COVID casualties dominate local news, it is clear that we need leaders who partner with, and prioritize, our elders. There are simple, cost-effective, and ethical policy remedies that our campaign is fighting for to ensure our elders can age in their homes with dignity.
Our campaign is advocating for a city-wide program to fund and implement home-based safety modifications, such as ramps for wheelchair access and grab bars for bathrooms. Currently, over 80 percent of safety modifications are paid out-of-pocket. This means low-income seniors who can’t afford such improvements are at greater risk of injury. Falls are the leading cause of hospitalizations among seniors, and cost $722 million annually in hospital bills.
If seniors feel unsafe at home, their remaining option is to leave their community and seek costly institutional care. Funding age-friendly home renovations is one of the best ways to save taxpayer money in the long run, while also protecting our seniors and allowing them to remain at home. It also has the advantage of being permanent, so future generations of seniors will benefit as well.
For renters, we believe that those eligible for the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) should be automatically enrolled. Over 50 percent of eligible seniors are unaware of or unable to sign up for SCRIE. Instead of more targeted outreach, we believe in automatic enrollment for all eligible seniors. Renters should also have access to age-friendly modifications. As the city requires landlords to provide window guards to tenants with children, landlords should also be required to make safety modifications for seniors.
With effective policy, we can reimagine our city to enable our seniors to age in place. On the state level, we need to expand property tax exemptions for seniors (SCHE) and demand the state and federal governments fully fund NYCHA — currently the largest senior housing provider in NYC. We must find ways for seniors staying in community to be civically and socially engaged by fully funding culturally responsive senior centers.
Our elders deserve to be cared for so that they can age in place, here in their communities, where they have laid their roots and built so much for us. We must elect the right leaders with bold ideas who can prioritize our seniors’ need to live their golden years in place, and in peace.