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Inside of a month, many of the city’s low-income supportive housing tenants with HIV and AIDS first were shocked to learn their rent would soon increase by at least 20 percent – and then got a reprieve from the hike. Before any of the approximately 2,200 low-income tenants had to face significant income reductions as of Nov. 1, a federal court judge last week issued a preliminary injunction just two days before the rent hike would have gone into effect, barring it from being implemented for now.

The court order from U.S. District Court Judge Frederic Block gives the city and state 45 days to respond to the class action suit filed by Housing Works, an AIDS service organization. Nine plaintiffs were named in the suit, according to Housing Works Policy Chief Terri Smith-Caronia. If the policy change eventually is adopted, those supportive housing tenants would be allowed to keep only $330 of their income each month – the rest would go toward rent.

The state required the city’s HIV/AIDS Service Administration (HASA) to use a state budget formula following results from a 2004 audit by the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA), said Jennifer Flynn, executive director of the New York City AIDS Housing Network. The audit found that HASA was paying too much in rent for clients who lived in contracted supportive housing and received income other than public assistance, such as Social Security Insurance or Social Security Disability, Flynn said.

“Now the city is forcing the agencies that were created to end homelessness to collect increased rent,” Flynn said.

HASA’s approximately 4,400 public assistance clients already live by the rule now proposed for the 2,200 SSI/SSD recipient clients, said Barbara Brancaccio, spokeswoman for the Human Resources Administration (HRA), HASA’s parent agency. HRA had been charging the latter group approximately one third of their income for rent. A tenant who currently receives $666 monthly from SSI, for example, contributes $199 towards rent, Brancaccio said, but if the policy change is adopted, that client would have to pay $336 towards rent and retain only the $330 allowed.

“HRA is committed to meeting all of our clients where they are and we will continue to work with our state oversights to ensure that our customers receive the services they need and deserve,” she said.

Tenants learned early last month of the rent increase. But instead of trying to find other living arrangements, Smith-Caronia said, they were trying to figure out how to survive with less income. “They were really concerned about how they would live on $11 a day and only be able to keep $330 within their pockets,” she said.

City Law Department attorney Martin Bowe said, “The rent increase was required by the state’s interpretation of the law. Although the city prefers to maintain the status quo, we were bound by the state.”

Flynn said the rent increase is illegal because federal guidelines permit contracted housing providers to charge no more than 30 percent of a tenant’s adjusted income or 10 percent of a tenant’s gross income, whichever is greater, where the resident has income other than welfare or public assistance that includes a rent allowance.

As a next step in defeating the rent increases, Smith-Caronia said housing advocates are working with state Sen. Thomas Duane, Assemblyman Richard Gottfried and Assemblywoman Deborah Glick in proposing legislation to prohibit the state from charging more than 30 percent of a tenant’s income for rent. U.S. Reps. Joseph Crowley and Jerrold Nadler wrote a letter last week to Mayor Bloomberg and Gov. Pataki urging suspension of the new rent policy.

– Darise Jean-Baptiste