An impressive array of federal, state and local elected officials are lending their clout to efforts to keep thousands of residents of AIDS supportive housing in their apartments for the New Year.

On the steps of City Hall Thursday morning: one powerful Congressman (Rep. Jerrold Nadler), the chairs of two key State Assembly committees (Hon. Deborah Glick and Hon. Dick Gottfried), a top aide to a key HIV-positive State Senator (Laura Morrison, for Sen. Tom Duane), a new-but-vocal Assembly Member (Hon. Linda Rosenthal) and over one hundred tenants, providers, and activists.

In the Assembly Hearing room across the street later that day: Glick and her Assembly Social Services Committee staff and first-hand testimony from an impressive array of tenants, providers and advocates. (For a copy of testimony from Housing Works click here.)

Their goal: stopping attempts to impose dramatic rent increases on AIDS housing tenants and getting Governor-elect Eliot Spitzer and the State Legislature to back new state policies and laws that will make sure all tenants in supportive housing programs who rely on disability or veterans' benefits, pensions, or a small amount of income can afford their rent and stay in their homes.

Referring to Spitzer's slogan, Social Services Chair Glick said that "on Day One, when everything changes, this will be one of those things that are changed." She promised to fight for comprehensive legislation that will block the dramatic rent increases and protect tenants with disabilities in New York City and around the state.

"I don't want to be homeless again"

The highlight of the hearings was testimony by tenants Michael Green,Yves Gebhardt, and Wayne Starks. Each man gave compelling, personal stories about the importance of their housing to keeping healthy and staying alive.

Green talked about the unfairness of knowing his neighbor's rent is capped at 30% of income, while he faces a dramatic rent increase. Gebhardt spoke for over a dozen of his neighbors in supportive housing in East Harlem who stick together like a family, and have shared their fears about eviction and homelessness. Starks spoke clearly about living on a limited income, and the real consequences of the threatened rent increase.

"This rent increase will force me back into homelessness and will make me sicker," said Wayne Starks, who has been living with HIV since 1986. "You try living with $11 a day. Now try living on $11 when you are living with AIDS. Now try living in $11 a day with a life-threatening kidney condition. I don't want to be homeless for the holidays."

The letters, the lawsuit, the legislation

In October, Starks received a letter telling him that as of November 1, he would have to pay 70 percent of his Social Security Disability income toward rent, leaving him with only $330 in cash each month. If the rent hike happens, he won't be able to afford his little apartment in Bedford-Stuveyesant, a type of non-emergency scatter-site housing funded by the New York City Human Resources Administration's (HRA) HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA).

Over 2,000 New Yorkers are facing this same threat.