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Tom's Triumph: 30 Percent Rent Cap Passes Senate

Senator Tom Duane Rains Fire on Republicans, Secures Senate Passage of Rent Cap for Poor People With HIV

July 20, 2009

Last Friday, in the wee hours of the morning, Sen. Tom Duane stunned his colleagues with a fuming, dramatic, impassioned speech in favor of legislation that would cap the rents of poor people living with HIV in subsidized housing at 30 percent.

Duane's unforgettable 22-minute rallying cry (see video below) carried the day, with the Senate passing the bill 52 to 1. The only dissenter was Sen. Kemp Hannon, who claimed there were no studies to back up the value of supportive housing (here is where Hannon's staff can find them).

Duane told the Update that the emotion behind the speech came in part out of his frustration with Republicans, who succeeded in killing two of Duane's bills earlier in the very long legislative day. (One bill provided consumer rent-to-own protections, the other improved health care consumer choice). "Two of my bills were laid aside by Republicans 29 to 28. They were good bills and I knew they would come back, but I was unwilling to do that with the 30 percent rent cap," Duane said. "Passing that bill is representative of the reason why I'm in the Senate."

The speech, in which Duane repeatedly scoffed at his political foes, electrified AIDS advocates almost as much as the passage of the bill itself, which would provide a solution to a longstanding injustice: Poor people living with HIV in New York who receive housing assistance are being forced to put all but $330 of their monthly income toward rent. The lack of a rent cap leaves tenants $11 a day to live on. No other New Yorkers receiving rental assistance are forced to pay such an onerous share of their incomes.

In his speech, Duane reminded his colleagues of the deep sources of stigma around HIV in an effort to persuade them that people living with the disease desperately need the lifesaving support of a rent cap. He cited his own experiences of caring for friends who died early in the AIDS epidemic as well as a recent clash in Queens over a housing facility for people with HIV.

Duane repeatedly threw down the gauntlet to Senators looking to sink the legislation. "You think it's funny? We'll kill Duane's bill! No you're not killing my bill, you're killing people!" he said, adding later, "I'm here to save my life and the lives of other people because they don't have anyone sitting here."


Veteran activist and POZ magazine founder Sean Strub sent out an email, calling Duane's speech "one of the most powerful speeches ever given in a legislative chamber on behalf of people with HIV." Duane's colleagues were similarly moved. Led by Sens. Hiram Monserrate and Pedro Espada Jr., the bleary-eyed Dems in the Senate gave Duane a standing ovation.

"Senator Duane's speech showed that the most eloquent defenders of people living with HIV are, in fact, the people themselves who are living with the disease," said Housing Works President and CEO Charles King. "We must never stop speaking up about stigma or about our right to health care."

Duane is the first openly gay and HIV-positive person elected to the State Senate.

Duane, whose speech also caught the attention of the media, told the Update that, had the Senate voted before he gave his speech, the rent cap bill would have gone down 29 to 28. He wasn't dwelling on his victory. "I'm hoping [the Senate passage] helps the bill in the Assembly and that the Governor signs it," he said.

Assembly Member Keith Wright has vigorously sponsored the bill in the Assembly, but Assembly Member Herman "Denny" Farrell blocked it from moving forward both this year and last.

The rent cap bill still must pass the Assembly and even if it does, Gov. Paterson has already stated his unwillingness to sign bills with new costs attached. The rent cap bill could save the State money: An analysis by Shubert Botein Policy Associates, estimated direct savings of over $19 million from prevented evictions would easily outweigh the projected costs of $16 million of the 30 percent rent cap.

Housing Works was part of a coalition including New York City AIDS Housing Network, Bailey House and others who sought out Duane, Assembly Member Deborah Glick and later Wright, to carry the legislation that would provide rent cap protection.

A Long Fight

The rent cap issue blew up in 2006 when the Pataki administration lifted the 30 percent rent cap for 2,200 HIV/AIDS Services Administration clients living in federal Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) and Section 8 housing.

The policy violated federal law capping rent for such individuals at 30 percent of their income. Housing Works and attorney Matthew Brinckerhoff filed for an injunction, which a federal court granted just two days before the new policy was to go into effect.

AIDS advocates thought the rent cap issue would be resolved back in 2007, when thanks to grassroots activist pressure, Eliot Spitzer's new Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) commissioner David Hansell said he would reverse the policy. When settlement negotiations failed, the City and State moved to dismiss Rivers vs Doar, the Housing Works/Brinckerhoff case challenging the Pataki-era policy.

That case is still ongoing. Only two weeks ago, Housing Works attorneys were in court arguing that people receiving federal housing benefits have the right to sue New York City and State over the policy.

This article was provided by Housing Works. It is a part of the publication Housing Works AIDS Issues Update. Visit Housing Works' website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
See Also
More on U.S. Gov't Housing Assistance in Eastern States


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