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Long-Awaited 30% Rent Cap in NY to Become a Reality

Posted by Mikola De Roo , February 13, 2014

Long-Awaited 30% Rent Cap in NY to Become a Reality

Effective activism and advocacy require tenacity, the willingness to agitate repeatedly for critical change, year after year, and to push our government and the powers-that-be to do right by their citizens, especially the most marginalized among them. Equally important is to acknowledge and praise when progress and steps toward real, positive change are being made, and to mark that moment with joy, gratitude, and a resounding call for more, for the further actions and leadership that will get us to where we need to be.

Two weeks ago, Housing Works offered a critique of the good, the bad, and the ugly of the fourth Executive Budget by New York State Governor Cuomo. One of the most glaring omissions was the long-awaited 30% rent cap, which will ensure that poor individuals and families living with AIDS and HIV have their rents capped at no more than 30% of their income, thereby providing affordable and stable housing.

VOCAL-NY, Housing Works, and other leaders in the AIDS community who are at the forefront in the fight to end the AIDS epidemic in New York State by 2020 have been fighting for the 30% rent cap and for expanded youth beds for 20 years.

In light of that, today’s announcement by NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio during his budget address—that he and Governor Cuomo have reached an agreement for an affordable housing protection for low-income New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS—is a promising sign of what we can accomplish if we work together. Both officials have stepped up and done what their predecessors refused to do and for that, they are to be commended.

Also to be applauded is Deputy Director for State Operations Fran Reiter, who has been the biggest government advocate in making this moment happen. Without Reiter’s intervention and the support of many individuals at both the state and city levels—State Health Commissioner Nirav Shah, Executive Deputy Commissioner Sue Kelly, Deputy Secretary for Health Courtney Burke, Deputy Secretary for Human Services and Information Technology Louise Chafee, AIDS Institute Director Dan O’Connell, NYC Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, NYC Budget Director Dean Fuleihan, and NYC Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Emma Wolfe, among others—the 30% rent cap agreement wouldn’t have happened. Given that Fran Reiter’s past relationship with Housing Works during her years as New York City deputy mayor under Mayor Giuliani was often contentious, this policy shift is also an illustrative example of how relationships with a history of conflict and disagreement can evolve and become assets.

The moment of triumph is particularly sweet for Housing Works. The organization successfully brought a 2006 30% rent cap lawsuit to federal court, and forced the City to honor the cap for those in federal funding, after they announced an end to honoring the cap. Housing Works also went on to write the 30% rent law at issue, and our advocacy staff has worked with our allies for decades to lobby for its passage.

New York City will pay roughly two-thirds of the cost of the new policy, and New York State will pay the remaining one-third. Over time, with the significant cost savings from decreasing emergency housing placements and improved health outcomes, the policy is expected to pay for itself.

Without this long-awaited 30% rent cap protection, the 12,000 New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS will continue to pay upwards of 70 % of their disability income toward their rent, an entirely unsustainable way to live. For an eloquent reminder of what trying to live like that really means, we need look no further than Housing Works client and advocate Keith H., who responded to the mayor’s announcement with relief and renewed optimism. “This is a huge, long overdue victory,” he said. “I’m one of the 12,000 people in New York who has been on the brink of becoming homeless. After paying more than 70% of my income toward rent, I have had to struggle to live on the $11 a day that’s left. I have had to choose between my basic needs—eating, medications, being able to make a doctor’s appointment. That’s no way to live.”

Housing Works President and CEO Charles King echoed Keith H.’s sentiments and saw the news as an opportunity for continued change and progress: “As the Housing Works community has chanted in protests for decades, AIDS housing saves lives. The NYS-NYC 30% rent cap agreement is a big victory, 20 years in the making, and a concrete down payment on New York leading the way in the larger goal of ending AIDS. This moment is exactly why the relentless advocacy that’s part of the Housing Works mission is at the core of everything we do.”

In practical terms, finally achieving the 30% rent cap means we must keep the pressure on and push for the other critical items missing from the Cuomo budget:

  • a task force of community and government dedicated to creating a roadmap to end the AIDS epidemic in New York State by 2020
  • a $10-million placeholder in the AIDS Institute’s budget that would serve as seed money for the above task force’s plan to end AIDS
  • an end to the current police practice of using condoms as evidence of prostitution
  • the decriminalization of syringe possession

“Today represents one important step in making the end of AIDS in New York a reality,” King said. “It’s up to us to stay on the path and ensure that we reach that destination.”

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