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GMHC editorial - "Governor Misses an Opportunity to Lead" PDF Print E-mail
Oct 26, 2010 at 11:42 AM

I like Governor Paterson. I respect many of the decisions of his tenure and his longstanding leadership on social justice. Nonetheless, I am sadly disappointed on his recent veto of A.2565/S.2664, the 30% rent cap bill.

The thought of living in New York City on $12 a day seems impossible to many, but for 11,000 New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS, it is a grim reality. By vetoing this bill in September, Governor Paterson betrayed those New Yorkers. The Governor had previously pledged that if the State Senate and Assembly both respectively passed the bill, he would be sure to sign it into law. Instead, he chose to veto it in the middle of the night, showing a true lack of leadership.

This bill would have prevented low-income people living with AIDS who are clients of the HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA) from becoming homeless by capping rent payments at 30% of their income. It also would have met standards set by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Instead, these people will continue to pay upwards of 70% of their disability income on housing alone, then struggle to live off of the few remaining dollars. For many, this comes down to choosing between bath soap, grocery bills, or life-saving medication.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, General Welfare Committee Chair Annabel Palma, and State & Federal Legislation Chair Helen Diane Foster also expressed their disappointment in the veto in a statement released last week, citing the need for housing protection in the depths of a recession.

At Gay Men's Health Crisis, we are appalled that HASA clients are only allowed to retain $359 per month ($11.80/day) above their housing costs, while the rest of their income is spent on rent.

Prior to the veto, hundreds of people living with AIDS who would be affected by the legislation scraped and struggled to make their way to Albany to speak to the Governor. Yet he chose to ignore their pleas and listen instead to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Mayor Bloomberg lobbied hard against the 30% rent cap bill, claiming that people living with HIV/AIDS were expecting some sort of exceptional treatment as compared to people living with other life-threatening illnesses. But HASA's rental assistance program has existed since the 1980's to provide an affordable housing protection for low-income people, which is inconsistent with HUD guidelines that cap living rates at 30% of a person's income. If there is any case of exceptionalism for HASA clients, it is one of exceptional discrimination based on where the HASA client lives.

The Governor's justification for his veto rings hollow. "This is my most difficult veto," Governor Paterson said. "I recognize, sadly, the history of the inadequacy of services government has brought to bear for those with HIV/AIDS. 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." More is needed from Governor Paterson than a simple recognition of how this will affect HASA clients. They need compassionate leadership.

This bill would also have indirectly saved the state and city countless dollars by preventing rent arrears and evictions, and keeping these vulnerable people out of expensive and unhealthy commercial SRO hotels and other emergency housing placements. Countless studies have shown that housing instability and homelessness are enormous contributing factors in increased HIV transmission rates and low adherence to medication. Shubert Botein Policy Associates, an organization that supports development of public policies for low income people, project that an estimated $16 million in healthcare costs would be saved annually as a result of preventing new HIV infections through housing stability.

Moreover, stable housing provides people living with HIV/AIDS an opportunity to maintain better health and the constancy to fully manage HIV treatment and access to care. National and local research show that stable housing increases a person's likelihood of attending medical visits, adhering to complex drug treatments, and decreasing stress-related illnesses for people with HIV. HUD acknowledges housing stability for people with HIV/AIDS as the cornerstone of treatment and care. Additionally, people who are stably and appropriately housed also demonstrate reductions in behaviors associated with HIV transmission, including high-risk sexual behavior and drug use.

Conversely, unstable housing and homelessness can lead to unnecessary illness and premature death. For example, HIV-related illness is currently the number one cause of death for women in New York City's shelter system. From a public health perspective, stable housing can prevent HIV transmission because prevention experts are provided opportunities to consistently work with people on reducing HIV infection.

Right now, our elected officials should stand up against this fiscally and morally unsound veto, and immediately override the Governor's veto of the rent cap bill, in order to save as many lives as possible. Governor Paterson's betrayal of people living with AIDS does not have to be the final word.

Marjorie Hill, PhD

Chief Executive Officer

Gay Men's Health Crisis

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