In a letter to Governor Cuomo A large coalition of more than 100 gay celebrities, labor leaders, elected officials, activists, and others is launching a new campaign today, organized by VOCAL-NY, to get Governor Cuomo to use this year’s state budget to close a loophole that denies affordable housing to homeless and low-income New Yorkers with HIV/AIDS.
January 15, 2014
The Honorable Andrew Cuomo
Governor of the State of New York
New York State Capitol
Albany, New York 12247
Dear Governor Cuomo:
We applaud your leadership promoting LGBT equality, tackling health disparities, and investing in affordable housing. We write to you with a concern that touches on all of these priority areas for your administration. Your leadership is needed now to change an anachronistic subsidy exclusion that discriminates against people living with HIV/AIDS.
As members and allies of the LGBT community, we are grateful for your tireless effort and tremendous success in passing same-sex marriage in New York. We are confident that you will also want to stand with us in putting a stop to the discrimination against people living with HIV/ AIDS in affordable housing – discrimination that disproportionately impacts low-income, LGBT people of color.
We ask you to implement the 30% rent cap for people living with HIV/AIDS, a cost-neutral affordable housing protection, through Article VII language in the 2014 - 2015 Executive Budget.
Background - People with AIDS Excluded from Affordable Housing Protection
The primary housing program for poor New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS is tenant-based rental assistance. As with other state housing programs for disabled people, residents with income from disability benefits are expected to contribute a portion of those benefits toward their rent. All state disability housing programs – and all federally funded housing assistance – cap the tenant’s rent contribution at 30% of income. Except one. The HIV/AIDS rental assistance program put in place in the 1980s excluded an affordable housing protection.
What this means today is that disabled New Yorkers with an AIDS diagnosis who receive rental assistance are required to pay upwards of 70% or more of their federal disability income (SSI, SSDI or Veterans’ benefits) towards their rent. This forces people to choose between paying their rent and other essential needs like food, transportation and co-pays for life-saving medical care. For those evicted, the risks are even greater. Without stable housing, it is difficult for people living with HIV/AIDS to remain connected to medical care, adhere to treatment and practice HIV prevention. The consequences include high rates of housing loss, homelessness, and premature death among a vulnerable population.
The Cost Savings
This policy will pay for itself by preventing unnecessary costs associated with housing loss and homelessness. An analysis by Shubert Botein Policy Associates (SBPA) estimates that annual reductions in crisis and emergency housing costs for the 10,000 people currently at risk of homelessness who are living with HIV/AIDS will more than offset the estimated cost of implementing this policy. These reductions in emergency housing costs make this affordable housing protection cost-neutral or even a cost savings for City and State agencies responsible for the rental assistance program. Moreover, by reducing avoidable crisis healthcare costs and the risk of ongoing HIV transmission, SBPA estimates the policy will result in significant additional Medicaid savings.
Legislation addressing this issue passed the Assembly and the Senate in 2010, with only one Senator voting against it. Former Senator Thomas K. Duane spoke passionately about it on the Senate floor, convincing his colleagues — Democrats and Republicans — to pass the bill in the final hours of session. When advocates met with then-Governor Paterson, the Governor indicated that he was likely going to sign it into law. Only after a conversation with Mayor Bloomberg did the Governor veto it. Governor Paterson included this powerful statement in his veto message: “This is my most difficult veto. I recognize, sadly, the history of the inadequacy of services government has brought to bear for those with HIV/AIDS.”
An affordable housing protection for homeless and at-risk people living with HIV/AIDS has strong bi-partisan support in the legislature. Senator Brad Hoylman and Assembly Member Robert Rodriguez are the current sponsors of the legislation (S3022/A7782). New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also backs the legislation and pledged his support during his campaign to work with you on this common-sense fix to an existing housing subsidy.
HIV remains a severe crisis in both the LGBT community and communities of color. In NYC, a majority of new HIV diagnoses are among gay and bisexual men, with Black and Latino youth at highest risk. While HIV has touched every population and age group in New York, 79% of people living with HIV/AIDS in our state are people of color. Promoting stable and affordable housing is the foundation for effective HIV prevention, treatment and care — and is therefore essential to ending the epidemic and addressing these disparities.
We encourage you to seize this opportunity to end the unfair double standard that forces low-income and disabled people living with HIV/AIDS to pay more in New York’s housing assistance programs.
New York State Senator Brad Holyman
New York State Assembly Member Daniel O'Donnell
New York State Assembly Member Robert Rodriquez
New York City Council Member Daniel Dromm
New York City Council Member Corey Johnson
New York City Council Member Carlos Menchaca
New York City Council Member Ritchie Torres