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HIV Budget Cuts in New York - Albany, give them shelter: HIV-infected New Yorkers pay too much for rent
  Sunday, May 31st 2009, 4:00 AM
With Albany lawmakers prepared to launch a frenzy of activity in the final weeks of the legislative session, the Legislature must not ignore the estimated 30,000 New York residents living with HIV or AIDS who are poor enough to receive public assistance.
About one-third of this group - 11,000 people - are on the brink of homelessness because they don't get the same degree of housing subsidy as other low-income New Yorkers.
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.
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.
It's not unusual for HIV-infected tenants to pay 56% or 59% of their income to landlords, and some pay 70% of income - a burden that leads to thousands of rent arrears and evictions each year.
That's an expensive and risky proposition for our city. People with AIDS or advanced HIV who get evicted often wind up living on the streets or sharing bathrooms with noninfected neighbors in homeless shelters, single-room occupancy buildings and welfare hotels.
Studies show they are more likely to turn to prostitution or to stop taking their medicine regularly, both of which increase health risks in the general public.
A simple, one-paragraph bill would cap the rent contribution of low-income HIV/AIDS patients at 30% of income, the standard used for most rent-subsidy programs.
But it won't happen unless the bill - which is currently before the Assembly Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee - gets passed and signed by Gov. Paterson.
It seems lawmakers are balking at the estimated $16 million in additional state funds that would be needed to make up for a lower tenant contribution.
But this isn't the place for penny-pinching.
"It's really going to cost more in the long term" if subsidies aren't increased, says Sean Barry, executive director of the New York City AIDS Housing Network. "Stable housing saves both lives and money."
He's right. It's nearly always cheaper to maintain a social safety net than it is to provide high-cost emergency services to the very poor, and nowhere is that more true than in the case of people with HIV/AIDS.
Barry estimates that the state's cost of evicting a single tenant can run as high as $15,600 - a sum that includes the cost of paying for emergency shelter and moving costs.
The cost is so high that preventing just 1,000 evictions would nearly pay for the expanded rent subsidy program, says Barry.
Keeping HIV/AIDS patients in stable housing also makes them less likely to run up big taxpayer bills by using public hospital emergency rooms for basic health care.
As we near the close of a tough budget year, Assemblyman Denny Farrell of Harlem, who chairs Ways and Means, and Sen. Carl Kruger of Brooklyn, who chairs Senate Finance, should move this legislation without delay.
Albany has a choice: do what's cheap and quick in the short run, or do what makes long-term sense and saves lives.
It should be an easy call.
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