Department Of Finance's Mea Culpa on Rent Subsidy for Seniors

A computer glitch that caused the city to overcharge landlords $43 million on their last property tax bills has been fixed, according to the head of the city's Department of Finance.

The city failed to apply credits on a program called Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption or SCRIE — a subsidy that protects eligible seniors from certain rent increases in exchange for a property tax abatement credit for landlords.

Chair of the City Council’s Aging Committee Jessica Lappin said the mistake is a case that's affected both landlords and tenants.

"It's not right, the landlords are being asked to pay more than they are supposed to, and that really puts the tenants at risk in the long term because if this isn't fixed by January you have more than 40,000 people who could be forced to pay more and effectively evicted."

Commissioner David Frankel of the Department of Finance testified before the joint city council committees of Aging and Finance on Tuesday. He said no one should be evicted because of the mistake and landlords who have yet to be reimbursed for overcharges will receive credit on their October or January property tax bill.

But during the more than two hours of testimony and questioning, council members voiced doubt about whether the matter was indeed fixed. They also asked if delays in processing SCRIE applications for seniors who live in rent-controlled or regulated apartments can be shortened.

“They lose weeks of sleep. They cry and their landlords tell them their rent is being raised — you’re no longer in the program — when you actually are,” Frankel said.

Housing Liaison Anne Cunningham said seniors who are living on fixed incomes can often wait several months without getting confirmation from the city about whether they’ve been approved or re-certified for the rent subsidy.

Cunningham said that not offering seniors help when they’re experiencing delays, and instead directing them to 311, the city’s information line, isn’t helping the problem. Other elected officials and advocates also complained that it’s not fair that applications aren’t available in several different languages.

Assemblyman Vito Lopez suggested one fix might be transferring responsibility for the program back to the Department for The Aging. The agency oversaw it until 2009, when the city attempted to streamline government resources.

Commissioner Frankel said the Department of Finance will continue to be in charge of the $125 million dollar program. He testified almost all applications and renewals are processed within 25 days and the agency is reviewing its operations to ensure efficiency.