AIDS Rent Cap Clears Hurdle

Bill to limit HASA clients’ monthly burden to 30 percent of income passes Assembly

Proposed legislation that would cap rents paid by thousands of clients of the city’s HIV/ AIDS Services Administration (HASA) to 30 percent of their income — which advocates have been pressing for since former Governor George Pataki was still in office — moved one step closer to passage on January 12 when the State Assembly approved it in an 82-54 vote.

Last July, the Senate adopted the measure 52-1 in the closing hours of its regular session, after an impassioned late night speech by Chelsea Democrat Thomas K. Duane, the out gay, HIV-positive Democrat who is its lead sponsor in that chamber. Because it is a new year, the Senate must once again vote on the bill, which was sponsored in the Assembly by Deborah Glick, an out lesbian West Village Democrat.

According to Glick, Democratic Governor David A. Paterson in December twice “promised” to sign the bill, though officially his office said it cannot comment until the measure arrives on his desk. Housing Works reported last month that the governor pledged to sign the measure when approached by a staff member from the New York City AIDS Housing Network (NYCAHN) during a World AIDS Day event at the First A.M.E. Mt. Zion Church in Brooklyn.

Under current state law, the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance mandates that HASA clients receiving public income support are allowed to keep only $344 above what their rent is pegged at — which means less than $12 a day to cover all their other expenses. Advocates, including NYCAHN, Housing Works, and Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), along with Duane and Glick, have been fighting to overturn this draconian income restriction since the waning days of the Pataki administration in 2006.

According to NYCAHN, the bill, if enacted, would offer relief to more than 11,000 New Yorkers living with AIDS who receive either Veterans Benefits from the federal Veterans Administration or SSI or SSD from the US Social Security Administration. When this controversy first arose, Gay City News confirmed with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development that renters receiving federal housing assistance — such as Section 8 vouchers — cannot be charged rents above the 30 percent income threshold. However, even with the cooperation of both the Spitzer and Paterson administrations, it has taken more than three years to advance the issue to this point.

Advocates have pointed to many instances where HASA clients have paid as much as 75 percent of their monthly income in rent, and have argued that the resulting homelessness has imposed a greater fiscal burden on the state than simply changing the law would.

“Especially during these difficult economic times, we must protect our most vulnerable citizens,” Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Lower East Side Democrat, said in a written statement. “This legislation will keep those on fixed incomes living with HIV/AIDS from being priced out of affordable housing and ending up in emergency housing where their health and safety would be at risk.”

James Lister, a HASA client active with GMHC who wrote an advocacy op-ed about the measure in Gay City News last year, said, “If the Senate passes the bill and Governor Paterson signs it, I can finally restore my dignity.”

The measure cleared the Senate Social Services Committee on Januray 20, and Eric Sumberg, Duane’s communications director, told Gay City News, “We expect it to pass promptly after that.”

Michael Kink, a former lobbyist for Housing Works who is now the State Senate’s chief policy adviser and counsel, tweeted last week, “Senator Duane’s bill will be taken up in NYSenate pronto.”

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