More Than A Home

“A home is, you know, sort of like air and water; I think it’s just one of those things that you need to survive as a human being…the four walls that you can call your own that no one can take away from you…”

State lawmakers could prevent homelessness for thousands of people living with HIV/AIDS by passing an affordable housing bill that would also save taxpayer’s money, according to a new report released on May 17th, 2013 by VOCAL-NY and the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center.

More Than a HomeDeveloped through a participatory research project involving people who are directly affected, the report – More Than A Home: How Affordable Housing for New Yorkers Living With HIV/AIDS Will Prevent Homelessness, Improve Health and Reduce Costs – includes new data about the causes and consequences of homelessness in New York City’s HIV/AIDS emergency housing system, and how the lack of affordable housing creates a barrier to independent living.

Both the Metro and El Diario newspapers carried front page coverage of the report, which is part of a renewed push by VOCAL-NY to win affordable housing for more than 10,000 homeless and at-risk New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS.

“This report shows that the Bloomberg administration’s policy of denying affordable housing to low-income people living with HIV/AIDS is driving homelessness and forcing people to choose between keeping a roof over the heads and other essential needs, like food and medication,” said Wanda Hernandez, a VOCAL-NY leader who pays 70% of her monthly SSDI check towards rent and is currently at risk of becoming homeless due to rent and utilities arrears. “Why does Mayor Bloomberg insist on dumping money on for-profit shelters for homeless people living with HIV/AIDS instead of supporting common-sense reform that would keep people like me in their homes?”

Writing about Wanda’s struggle to keep her home, the Metro reported:

“After rent, Hernandez has about $340 monthly, she said, or about $12 a day — scraped together for food, utilities and unexpected expenses like recently dropping her phone in the toilet. She can’t get to her medical appointments sometimes because she can’t afford the Metrocard. Con Ed shut off her lights last week, she said, and she faces a hearing Tuesday about possible eviction.”

More Than a HomeNew York City’s rental assistance program for homeless people living with HIV/AIDS is the only low-income housing program in the state that requires tenants to pay more than 30% of their income towards their rent. Legislation that would ensure homeless and extremely low-income people living with HIV/AIDS who already qualify for housing assistance pay no more than 30% of their disability income towards rent already passed the legislature with strong bipartisan support in 2010, though it was later vetoed by former Governor David Paterson. After being considered again as a housing initiative during Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Medicaid reform process, the rent cap was ultimately dropped due to opposition from the Bloomberg administration.

Findings from the report, which is based on surveys with homeless people living with HIV/AIDS living in city-funded shelters, include the following:

  • The severe rent burden causes loss of housing. Although HASA’s rental assistance program is intended to promote stable housing and better health, it often causes the opposite. This is due to an unsustainable rent burden, which can force tenants into arrears and contibute to recurring homelessness.

    Overall, two-thirds of respondents (63%) in emergency housing were in arrears for rent, utilities or both before losing their apartment.

  • Lack of affordable housing means sacrificing other basic needs. People who have been permanently disabled by HIV/AIDS and are enrolled in HASA’s independent living rental assistance program are budgeted to live on a little more than $12 per day for all other expenses after rent. This leads to nearly impossible trade-offs among clients in order to pay their rent each month.

    About two-thirds (65%) of respondents in emergency housing reported having to choose between paying rent and other basic necessities in the six months before losing their apartment.

  • Homelessness and unstable housing adversely impact health. The severe rent burden forces many HASA clients into homelessness or sacrificing basic needs to retain their housing.

    More than half (52%) had visited the emergency room and 38% had actually been admitted to hospitals since becoming homeless and entering the emergency housing system.
  • The rent burden is a barrier to independent living. Many people living with HIV/AIDS who could otherwise live independently are instead forced to stay in substandard emergency housing or opt for supportive housing even when they no longer need it.

    Four out of five respondents (78%) said they would be able to move into permanent housing sooner if they could rely on an affordable housing protection that limited their rent burden to 30% of income.

Wanda was joined by VOCAL-NY leaders Jim Lister, Reginald Brown and Kevin Wilson in presenting the report’s findings and delivering personal testimony during a briefing at 250 Broadway (check out photos). We want to thank Senator Brad Hoylman for his opening remarks (and serving as the new primary bill sponsor in the Senate!), City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s office, and Ted Houghton from the Supportive Housing Network of New York and Nancy Southwell from Services for the Underserved for participating in a panel discussion.

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