HIV-positive tenants at the Malibu, an Upper West Side single room occupancy (SRO) hotel, are fighting to hold on to their housing.

Tenants got a letter from the Human Resources Administration on June 14 advising them that the Malibu Hotel “is terminating their agreement” with HRA and they had to move by July 13.

“They are not being evicted,” said a manager who gave his name only as “Lou.” “Malibu is terminating the contract.” He raised his voice and refused to answer other questions.

The HRA press office would not comment on the specifics of the case, citing a desire to protect the confidentiality of the tenants. “I am unable to confirm the use of any specific facility for HASA [HIV/AIDS Services Administration] clients,” said HRA spokesperson Bob McHugh.

Since 2002, the hotel has been under contract with the city to provide housing for homeless people with HIV/AIDS. At the time, the Malibu housed over 100 clients for $80 a night, Jane Corbett, then-interim director of HASA, told a reporter for the Village Voice.

Tenants suspect that the building’s owner, real estate mogul Hank Freid, plans to convert the building to a tourist hotel. Rooms at the Malibu are already advertised on its website from between $69 to $79. Freid could not be reached for comment by press time.

Advocates say SRO units are already disappearing from the city at an alarming rate. In the late 1950s there were roughly 200,000 SROs; today there are around 40,000, according to the Rent Guidelines Board.

Tenants say that management has become negligent in running the building. Last month, a resident was found dead days after the fact by a friend, said resident Theodore Harris. Meanwhile, he added, a newly imposed midnight curfew has left some tenants locked out on the streets overnight.

Nevertheless, tenants like Theodore Harris say they prefer to stay at the Malibu, where their HIV status is known and accepted, rather than take their chances with a new hotel. “A lot of [residents] have the virus–you talk to somebody who doesn’t have it and they keep 20 feet away at all times,” said Harris.

Housing Works, an HIV housing advocacy group, is trying to delay the eviction, but there is already noticeable anxiety among the residents. Many of them are still waiting to hear from their caseworkers about alternative living quarters.

“My caseworker in Flatbush said not to worry about it, but that was a month or so ago,” said Harris.

Another tenant, who declined to be identified, agreed. “None of us know where we are going to go,” she said.

–Bennett Baumer

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