Advocates trying to keep HIV/AIDS rent cap alive
|Sen. William Perkins talks about the need to cap the percentage of income New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS pay for rent at 30 percent. Photo by Veronica Lewin.|
February 14, 2011A small group of lawmakers and advocates gathered outside the Senate Chamber on Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day to emphasize the importance of passing legislation that would ensure low-income people living with the disease can afford to keep a roof over their heads.
Last session, former Gov. David A. Paterson vetoed a bill (S.2664/A.2565) that would have capped shelter costs, including rents and utilities, for low-income individuals living with HIV/AIDS at 30 percent of their income.
This is an issue in New York City where rent is sky high and no such cap exists, said James Dean, a board member of Voices of Community Activists and Leaders, the group that organized the event. Last year's Legislature was sympathetic to the issue, passing the measure by 42 to 19 in the Senate and 84 to 54 in the Assembly.
"Housing and the fight to prevent and to help those who have AIDS go hand in hand, and if we do not sustain 30 percent we are eventually leading people to worst possibilities and that would be sinful and unacceptable for a state like this. We can do better, and it's urgent," said Sen. William Perkins, D-Harlem. "It is not a matter of debate; it is not a matter of choice; it's something that has to be done ASAP."
The bill, which was introduced last year by Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, D-Greenwich Village, and Sen. Thomas Duane, D-Chelsea, was ultimately vetoed by Paterson who viewed it as an unfunded mandate that would place a burden on local governments in a time of fiscal hardship. The bill has yet to be introduced this session.
"I recognize, sadly, the history of the inadequacy of services government has brought to bear for those with HIV/AIDS," Paterson said in his veto message. "But, unhappily, this is not the only veto decision I have had to make that could adversely affect innocent New Yorkers who are seriously ill or disabled and who look to government for assistance. Yet, I am duty bound."
Voices of Community Activists and Leaders contends that the provision would not be an unfunded mandated because a 30 percent cap would be budget neutral, according to a fiscal analysis of last year's Senate bill conducted by Shubert Botein Policy Associates, which based its findings on data obtained from the New York City Human Resources Administration's HIV/AIDS Services Administration. The agency administers aid to people living with AIDS and HIV in New York City.
Shubert Botein describes itself as a consulting group that "supports development and implementation of public policies and programs that impact low-income people and communities." Its analysis determined that it costs the city and state approximately $12,736 per person to provide services for people who are living on assistance from HIV/AIDS Services Administration and who get evicted.
According to the report, the state and city would each spend approximately $9.46 million more in rental assistance to cover the rent cap instead of the $10 million they would end up spending to provide emergency shelter and relocation services to people who have been evicted, a savings for the state and city of $598,000 apiece.
However, Paterson contended it could not be reasonably proven that the cap would cost the city less then $10 million.
Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, D-Brooklyn, said the initiative to get the legislation passed is being launched during Black History Month at a time when everyone is "cognizant that the HIV/AIDS crisis is one that all of society deals with." Jeffries stressed the importance of bill advocates figuring out how to work more closely with state health officials, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and allies in the Legislature "to make sure we can deal with the specific issue of how AIDS and HIV is ravaging some parts of the African-American community."