After a decade-long struggle for better housing, AIDS advocates are finally being heard. On April 12, the City Council unanimously passed the first of three bills designed to make sure homeless New Yorkers with HIV/AIDS get the medically appropriate housing they need.
Although HASA is legally required to find permanent housing for its clients within 90 days, a report last year by City Councilmember Eric Gioia and AIDS advocacy groups found that 58 percent of clients surveyed had been living in transitional housing—generally single room occupancy (SRO) hotels—for more than three months.
The Keith Cylar Reporting Act—named after the late New York AIDS activist—will require the HIV/AIDS Services Administration to provide detailed quarterly reports to the City Council on how well it is serving each of the 41,000 New Yorkers who rely on the agency. At press time, the Mayor had yet to sign the bill into law, and the Mayor’s office was unable to comment on whether he would do so.
Up until now, under Local Law 49, HASA had only been required to provide the average time it took for services to reach their clients. “Average [times] are meaningless and often mask massive violations,” said Housing Works senior staff attorney Armen Merjian.
When clients do get housed, it’s often in substandard units, argues Merjian. The report found 73 percent of the facilities had violations issued by the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) in the last year, and 33 percent had ‘Class C violations’ considered ‘immediately hazardous’. The report contains photographs of collapsed ceilings, sodden plaster, broken windows and busted locks gathered from decrepit residences across New York.
“The conditions are not that great,” said Aaron Williams, a glam six-footer who favors pink shades and lipstick. Williams says HASA pays $2000 for his 5th floor room at the Marion Hotel, where he has no kitchen and only a shared bathroom. “There’s cracks, there’s holes, the doors are easy to break into and there are mice,” Williams said.
These types of problems are hardly new. HASA has only just been released from a four-year period of judicial oversight, the result of litigation brought against the agency by HASA clients as far back as 1995. Advocates hope that the new bills will step in where the court monitoring left off.
“The court ruled that we were in compliance and had been for some time,” said Bob McHugh, a spokesperson for the Human Resources Administration, HASA’s parent agency, adding that HASA is broadly supportive of the new legislation.
Two more bills intended to improve housing for homeless people living with HIV and AIDS are expected to pass by the end of April. The first, Intro 535, will require HASA to provide every new eligible applicant with an application for HASA operated medically appropriate permanent housing. According to advocates, some SRO tenants currently wait months and even years before receiving even an application for permanent housing.
The second, Intro 543, will require HASA to link clients with HASA operated residences by implementing a “centralized housing referral and placement system.” The new system will track referrals and placements to emergency housing, and keep tabs on the conditions of the buildings in which clients live. It will require HASA to assess the needs of eligible applicants, match their clients with vacancies, and track how long clients stay once they are housed.