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Rent Cap is Due

Rent Cap is Due

Duane, Glick and HIV-positive tenants in Albany rallying for a fair rent cap

HIV-positive tenants have been regular visitors in Albany the last few weeks, pushing a bill that would cap rent payments at 30 percent of an HIV-positive person’s income. Those visits culminated with recent emotional testimony in front of the Senate Social Services committee and appears to have paid off: The legislation has passed through the Social Services committees in both the Senate and the Assembly, and has more cosponsors than ever before. There are currently 29 Assembly cosponsors and 10 Senate cosponsors.

“I’ll tell you what I spend my $11 a day on,” Michael, a HASA client and a military veteran testified in the Senate Social Services committee. ”I need a phone in order to have access to my case worker, dialysis center, other medical providers and keep my family up to date about my health issues. I have a special renal diet as a dialysis patient and a person living with HIV/AIDS, but I often can’t meet those requirements because I can’t afford those foods.”

The “30 percent rent cap bill” (S.2664/A.2565) passed in the Senate Social Services Committee for the first time that day. It has twice passed through that committee in the Assembly since the bill’s introduction in 2007.

The bill is sponsored by Senator Tom Duane and Assembly Member Deborah Glick and would correct a cruel anomaly in the way HIV/AIDS Service Administration (HASA) charges rent. HASA housing is the only public housing program in the state that doesn’t cap rent payments at 30 percent of a tenant’s income and instead take all but $330 in income earned by its tenants. The lack of a rent cap leaves tenants at $11 a day.

If this bill becomes law, SSI clients would have an average of $122 more each month to live on, and SSD clients would have an average of at least $195 more each month to live on.

Duane and Glick deserve praise for pushing this legislation and fulfilling their promises at a March forum. The duo promised to write letters to colleagues and to the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) and the New York City Human Resources Administration (HRA)—which jointly fund HASA—about this legislation.

In another positive sign, the mainstream media is starting to catch on. In a Daily News op ed Errol Louis also noted the inanity of HASA’s housing policy. “Most housing programs aimed at helping the poor – including Section 8, veterans’ benefits and public housing – require the tenant to contribute a maximum 30% of their income for rent,” he wrote on May 31. “It’s a national, generally accepted standard, but unless certain federal money is used, the 30% cap doesn’t apply. As a result, many of our most vulnerable poor people – whose housing help comes from the New York City HIV/AIDS Services Administration – are forced to pay, on average, more than half their income for rent.”

Money, money, money

The passage of the bill this year is an uphill battle, because Governor Paterson said he will not sign any legislation with new costs attached to it this year. And OTDA and HRA are both opposed to the law’s change, expecting that it will cost them money.

But according to an analysis presented by Ginny Shubert of Shubert Botein Policy Associates, estimated direct savings of over $19 million from prevented evictions would easily outweigh the projected costs of $16 million of the 30 percent rent cap (5.6 percent of current rental assistance costs for this group), which would be shared between New York State and City.

Approximately 23 percent of HASA clients on rental assistance are approved for rent arrears payments during the course of a year, at a cost of about $4.7 million. Many others simply lose their apartments and become homeless. The estimated cost of an eviction for a HASA client is $15,600, which includes the cost of an average length of stay in emergency housing, security deposits, and moving costs.

Although HRA dispute the cost savings and sent a memo of opposition, they have not provided alternate analysis. At a Senate Social Services committee last month, Sen. Daniel Squadron of the Social Services Committee said unless the City or State provides alternative numbers, the Senate is going to use Shubert’s numbers in its decision.

“The City hasn’t done the research themselves,” said NYCAHN Organizer Jaron Benjamin. “HASA said they only have 72 evictions per year. There’s no way that 20 percent of the 11,000 HASA clients in independent housing get eviction notices and HASA is saving everybody from being evicted but 72 people.”

Make two calls to Albany to keep the momentum going!

1) Call Senator Carl Kruger, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, at (518) 455-2460. Say, “I’m calling to urge Senator Kruger to support Senator Duane’s AIDS housing bill, Senate bill number 2664, by scheduling a Senate Finance Committee vote this week. This bill would address the rising rate of homelessness among people living with AIDS in New York City.”

2) Call Assembly Member Denny Farrell, Chair of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, at (518) 455-5491.

Say, “I’m calling to thank Assembly Member Farrell for cosponsoring Assembly Member Glick’s AIDS housing bill, Assembly bill number 2565. I also want to urge him to schedule a committee vote for the legislation this week. Passing this legislation is critical to addressing the rising rate of homelessness among people with AIDS in New York City.”

Contact Jaron Benjamin at (718) 864-3932 or jaron@nycahn.org for more information.

Posted on June 3, 2009 at 10:22 pm

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