Rent Hike on HIV/AIDS Housing

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by Kerry Eleveld, The New York Blade, 16 Oct 2006

The New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) has ordered the City’s Human Resources Administration (HRA) to increase the monthly housing payment it requires from some of the city’s poorest residents living with HIV/AIDS.

About 2,200 clients of the HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA) who receive any income other than Public Assistance—such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability (SSD)—will soon be required to pay all but $330 of their monthly stipend toward rent.

Under the new formula, their rent payments will increase from about 30 percent of their monthly income to more than half of it, leaving them with $330 (or $11/day) to cover food, clothing, transportation and other items.

According to the city, a client who receives $690 in SSI currently contributes about $207 a month toward rent; that contribution would increase to $360 under the new guidelines.

Politicians and AIDS advocates were outraged after the city informed them of the change that’s due to take effect by Nov. 1. Recipients will receive a 10-day warning before the rule is implemented.

"I am livid that the Pataki administration and OTDA would force people with HIV/AIDS living in poverty to pay over half their meager monthly income simply to live in supportive housing," said openly gay state Sen. Thomas Duane, who is also HIV-positive. "It is already an outrage that there is a tremendous scarcity of government-subsidized, supportive housing in the city of New York."

Charles King, president of Housing Works, noted that the new requirement created a double standard for HASA clients.

"If you’re in public housing or in Section 8, you only pay 30 percent of your income under the federal rules; HIV/AIDS rent enhancement at the HIV/AIDS Services Administration should work exactly the same way," King said.

The issue first came to light after a March 2004 audit by state officials revealed that HASA was paying what they felt was too high a proportion of the rent for people in the program. The state began to withhold reimbursements that it pays to the city in order to compensate for the overpayments.

According The New York Times, the withheld subsidies now total more than $150 million, and HASA agreed to change the policy in order to get the funds released.

Sen. Duane has promised to introduce legislation that will cap rent increases for people in the HASA program. Assemblymember Dick Gottfried will introduce the Assembly version.

"What we will do is apply the federal guidelines of 30 percent of someone’s income for rent to the state rent payment for supportive housing," Gottfried said. "So instead of 50 percent or more of someone’s income going for rent, it would be limited to the standard ceiling of 30 percent."

Sen. Duane and Assemblymember Gottfried said they will try to get the legislation introduced within the next several weeks. "We want to get the bill drafted and introduced as quickly as possible just to make the point," Gottfried said.

A vote could potentially be taken if there’s a special session in December, otherwise, the legislation will wait until next year.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said she would work with city officials and HIV/AIDS advocates to explore other ways of reducing the burden on the 2,200 HASA clients.

"Asking someone to live on a mere $330 a month is wholly unreasonable," Quinn said.

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