SCRIE Screwup

The city’s program that helps low-income elderly people pay their rent has failed to give some landlords tax credits for participating—while continuing to pay others rent for dead tenants, according to reports released in September.

Comptroller John Liu reported Sept. 26 that the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption program, which subsidizes rents for almost 50,000 rent-regulated tenants who are 62 or older and  make less than $29,000 a year, had been covering the rent increases for 3,800 tenants who had died. Those payments cost the program $11.8 million from July 2009 to November 2010, according to Liu’s audit. 

The SCRIE program’s annual budget is about $125 million, with an average benefit of about $225 a month. It gives landlords tax credits in exchange for not charging tenants rent increases.

Liu’s office has turned its findings over to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance to determine if any cases warrant prosecution. Meanwhile, the city Finance Department, which took over the program in 2009, says it will now check the names of people in the program against the Social Security Administration’s regularly updated master death list.

The dead-tenants debacle was the second major problem SCRIE has suffered recently. In July, a Finance Department computer glitch meant that landlords participating in the program received property-tax bills that did not include their tax credits, thus charging them the full amount normally due. 

“We are getting calls from hundreds of seniors across the city who have to pay the full amount of rent,” City Councilmember Dominic Recchia (D-Brooklyn), chair of the Finance Committee, told the New York Post in September. “The landlords are going nuts because their mortgage payments are increasing thousands of dollars.”

“I’m not trying to excuse that we screwed this up,” Finance Commissioner David Frankel told the committee during a hearing on Sept. 27.