Is the longtime lovefest between City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and the city’s AIDS activists finally over? Quinn rose to power working under HIV-positive then-councilman Tom Duane, advocating for tenants, gays, and people with HIV and AIDS when Duane pushed through legislation enabling poor New Yorkers with AIDS to get housing assistance and other benefits. But now a broad swath of activists want those benefits to be available to low-income HIV-positive New Yorkers before they progress to AIDS, and Quinn opposes the plan.
The idea is that stable housing will help low-income HIV patients take their meds routinely and stave off full-blown AIDS, which run up large bills. Quinn estimates the proposed plan will cost up to $100 million a year and worries it will set a precedent that the city should provide housing for poor New Yorkers with other diseases, like cancer and diabetes. At a benefit last night for the powerful AIDS-advocacy group Housing Works, its chief, Charles King, scoffed that a “supposedly progressive” Quinn would block such a plan, which he says would cost the city only about $48 million a year. “The city has a $1.6 billion surplus right now to fund this, but she’s setting herself up to run for mayor and it’s clear to me her biggest target right now is things she can do for the middle class,” he said today. King says activists plan to “up the ante” to pressure Quinn; the speaker in turn has rereleased a statement: “I do not believe this proposal is the best way to support HIV-positive homeless individuals or prevent the spread of this disease.” She promised to work with advocates and defended her activist bona fides. David Golden of the New York City AIDS Housing Network was unimpressed. “She’s forgotten where she came from,” he said. —Tim Murphy