Simon’s Town Hall Draws Increasingly Activist Seniors

Senior citizens are demanding a higher quality living standard and at last Fridays annual Senior Resource Fair and Town Hall at St. Francis College, 180 Remsen Street in Brooklyn Heights dozens of seniors’ gathered to air their grievances.   

Jo Anne Simon
Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon

Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon (D-Brooklyn Heights, Downtown Brooklyn, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Gowanus, Park Slope, Boerum Hill, DUMBO) hosted the event, which featured scores of vendors and community members. Advocacy groups and social and legal services vendors disseminated informational pamphlets to seniors eager for solutions to their varied problems, maintaining affordable housing being the most prominent. 

“Our annual senior resource fair is one of my favorite events as it showcases the myriad services available for seniors, from health care to legal help to volunteer opportunities,” said Simon. “It’s also a great chance for neighbors to reconnect with one another and meet with their local government, agency, and non-profit representatives.” 

Yet the seniors who filled the crowded St. Francis gymnasium were less than jovial and eager for remedies to indignities suffered. One particularly vexed New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) resident complained her rent had jumped $600 this year even though social security comprises more than half her income, of what is basically a fixed income, she said. 

Another senior lamented that her building management doesn’t “do nothin.”

The panel, which included State Sen. Brian Kavanagh (D-Northern Brooklyn, Lower Manhattan) and New York Foundation for Senior Citizens President Linda Hoffman spoke to the validity of the complaints. 

“How many of you are happy with your homes?” asked Hoffman. “How many of you are able to afford your rent?” 

Several seniors complained about the high cost of housing and needing more services. Photo by Denise Ladji.

A few hands raised in response to this, most did not. Seniors are more likely to pay in excess of 30 percent of their income on housing than the total population, regardless of whether they rent or own their homes, according to a report that City Comptroller Scott Stringer distributed.  

In response to the former senior’s comment, Kavanagh, who himself  is no stranger to the topic and was instrumental in the passing of the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019, suggested she refer to the Senior Citizens Rent Increase Exemption Program (SCRIE), an underutilized program used by less than half of all potential beneficiaries, that freezes rent levels for eligible seniors. 

To the latter complaint, he explained her right to formally complain to her landlord without fear of reprisal. 

When asked how to improve the quality of life for senior citizens, Stringer said, “We have to re-imagine living as you’re getting older in New York City. With that comes different strategies to make sure we do everything to secure senior safety, like what kind of improvements are needed in apartments? They need bars to hold on to so we think about how we can work with landlords to implement that. We also need to re-imagine the traditional senior center. Seniors now are just like the kids, they’re on the internet, they want to be engaged on issues. The city has to think about the senior centers that are the centerpiece of the aging community’s life.”

The comptroller referred me to his report on New York City’s growing senior population which states in its conclusion; “The aging of New York City’s population presents an opportunity for the City, working with State and Federal partners, to take stock of how current programs are meeting the needs of an aging population and determine the additional steps that need to be taken to ensure that all New Yorkers can enjoy their golden years.” 

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