Older New Yorkers wait years for affordable housing



Two people climbing the stairs at Union Square subway station. Photo by Jillian Magtoto

Older New Yorkers who need affordable housing in the nation’s most expensive market are waiting years for placement in Midtown, while, in some cases, they face open hostility.

The number of unhoused people over 65 in New York City is projected to triple to 6,900 by 2030, and affordable housing opportunities are slim. The city subsidized less than 10% of housing, according to the Rental Guidelines Board. And obtaining affordable housing vouchers is nearly impossible: New York City’s Section 8 voucher waitlist is full, and over 40% of voucher holders are at least 62 years old, according to city data.

In the meantime, many face uneasy conditions, or even hostility, in shelters. In other cases, landlords are seeking to evict older tenants. As shelters are limiting the number of days people can stay, older people look for housing units that some struggle to live independently in.

Crystal Rivera, 62, has lived at Project Renewal’s New Providence Women’s Shelter for eight months and is looking for ways to leave the shelter system, despite the lack of help for her age group. 

“They say I have to do the footwork myself,” Rivera said as she limped to the subway to collect housing application papers. “If you’re over a certain age, it’s impossible.” 

Living with mentally ill residents has been stressful, she said. Online employee and resident reviews confirm unsafe living conditions at New Providence Shelter, as well as frequent staff turnover. Last December, a woman was fatally stabbed at the shelter by her roommate, who is still at large. The public safety committee of Community Board 6 has called for increased security at the shelter. 

Nonetheless, Rivera is having trouble getting out.

“I’ve never had an appointment in the eight months I’ve been here,” she said. “The case manager is supposed to make an appointment for me, but the past two have left and didn’t filter information down. They’ve lost my paperwork before.”

Rivera is now applying to the Bronx 1 housing center using her Section 8 voucher through NYC Housing Connect, but its responses are unreliable. According to the organization’s website, people may wait as long as 10 months after the deadline for news on their applications.

“Because there are so many applications, you may not be contacted, even if you could have qualified,” Housing Connect writes on its website.

“These things are based on luck,” Rivera said. 

Even older New Yorkers who have housing grapple with hostile and uncertain conditions. One 89-year-old has faced threats of eviction in the Midtown apartment where she has lived for over 35 years. Her locks and doors have been thrown off their frame.

The woman did not want to give her name because she fears retaliation. She said she plans to stay put as long as she can make it up the 48 steps to the third floor, an effort she now manages by using the railing to pull herself up.

“If I’m still able to walk, I’ll have my lease for another year,” she said. “The only place I can currently afford has an endless waiting list.”

When the time comes, she will depend on Encore 49 in Midtown to help her find a new place. The center manages two affordable housing centers for people 62 and older, but space is limited.

“It’s when someone dies or leaves,” the 89-year-old said. 

Raven Graves, Encore 49’s senior director of aging and residential services, said one building she oversees on 10th Avenue has a 10-year waiting list. It’s accessible to people with disabilities, but Encore 49’s supporting housing building on 49th Street is not. Stays there are limited by whether residents can walk up and down the stairs, resulting in higher turnover, said Graves.

More people have found supportive housing through Mayor Eric Adams’ “Street to Housing” program, introduced last year, Graves said. It qualifies all shelter residents for supportive housing to limit their time in shelters. The program no longer allows Encore 49 to make decisions based on interviews and psychiatric evaluations.

“Some clients come in with years of psychosis who aren’t fit for our particular housing,” said Graves. “Some people are homeless for so long that they do not know how to take care of themselves,” she said, mentioning problems with basic hygiene and personal finances.

In these cases, Encore 49 must put people in housing when they may belong in long-term care. As an independent living center, Encore 49 lacks the resources to tend to people who might actually need to be in long-term care facilities. 

“The city is moving them out of shelters, but it’s not about how they will actually thrive,” said Graves. “I love it when I see how far people can come, but there are times when I think they need more resources than we can offer.”