Legislative Gazette: Silver supports help for tenants with HIV/AIDS

Thomas K. Duane

January 03, 2010

By Amanda Cedrone
Staff Writer

January 04, 2010

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has committed to passing an affordable housing bill for New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS that has already passed the Senate.

The legislation (A.2565/S.2664) would provide affordable housing protection to 11,000 low-income New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS by capping the tenant's share of rent. The rent for the government subsidized housing being provided to New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS will be capped at 30 percent for tenants. The difference would be paid by New York City and state government.

"The speaker supports the measure and our goal is to pass it as early in session as possible," said Melissa Mansfield, spokeswoman for Silver.

Currently, clients of HIV/AIDS Services Administration receiving rental assistance pay between 50 and 85 percent of their disability income toward rent each month. This forces them to make difficult trade-offs between essential needs and has driven up the number of late rent payments and evictions, advocates for the bill said.

Sean Barry, executive director of the New York City AIDS Housing Network, said this legislation will lead to an overall healthier and more manageable lifestyle for New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS.

By capping their rent, individuals with HIV/AIDS will be able to spend more of their money on fulfilling basic needs, such as buying nutritious food to take their medicine and attending doctor appointments, rather than spending half or more of their income on rent.

"I'm not exaggerating when I say housing is fundamental to the survival of people with AIDS … When our members have to budget half or more of their income each month it means real trade-offs," said Barry. "Like going to the doctor, buying cold medicine in the winter time and other needs critical to people living with HIV/AIDS."

Wanda Hernandez and Gustavo Pedroza, both housing network leaders and HIV/AIDS Service Administration clients agree with Barry that the affordable housing bill will provide much needed relief to New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS.

"Speaker Silver understands this is an opportunity to help low-income New Yorkers with HIV/AIDS save their homes, while also saving the city and state money by making the rental assistance program more effective and efficient," said Hernandez.

Hernandez pays 71 percent of her Social Security disability check toward rent. "Once this bill passes, I won't have to worry about whether I can afford to go to the doctor or buy groceries on order to pay my rent," she said.

"As someone who lives in the building where he grew up, Speaker Silver knows the importance of a home," said Pedroza. "Without a home, it's difficult to think about your future or focus on staying healthy."

Barry also said that all costs of the program will be fully offset as it will reduce arrears, evictions and emergency shelter placements among HIV/AIDS Service Administration clients in the rental assistance program. Barry said placing clients in these emergency shelters costs the government at least twice as much as simply capping their rent payments.

"I do think this policy fits within New York's overall strategy of fighting the epidemic," said Barry. "And I think it fits in with the nation's overall strategy."

New York City AIDS Housing Network has been working with sponsors Sen. Tom Duane and Assemblywoman Deborah Glick since 2007 to pass the affordable housing legislation. The Senate passed the bill in July 2009 with a vote of 52 to one.