Op-Ed | Say yes to supportive housing in Hell’s Kitchen

Above Hell’s Kitchen
Photo via Getty Images

This month, the average rent for an apartment in Manhattan hit an all-time record: $5,000 per month. Landlords are evicting tenants left and right, and tenants who are priced out are left with few options –  less than 1% of units below $1500 per month are vacant. It’s no surprise that more New Yorkers are becoming homeless. Over 60,000 New Yorkers are sleeping in city shelters, some in congregate settings with dozens to a room. Others are sleeping wherever they can find safe shelter on the street or in subways. 

We are in an emergency–and we cannot afford to squander the opportunity to provide affordable housing for low-income and homeless New Yorkers. 

Fortunately, a proposed project in Hell’s Kitchen offers that chance. The Lirio will offer supportive housing for homeless New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS and affordable housing for low-income households. The housing this building provides will be life-changing for its tenants. I would know. My supportive housing apartment saved mine.

I have been living with HIV/AIDS for over 30 years. I currently live in Hell’s Kitchen in a mixed-use building full of seniors, people living with HIV/AIDS, middle income New Yorkers and those working in the entertainment industry. The building offers a ton of community resources, wellness activities, and on-site medical care.

Other New Yorkers deserve the same opportunities for secure housing that I have, which is why I encourage the City Council to approve the Lirio as soon as possible, and without watering down the number of affordable and supportive units it provides.

The Lirio will be 112 total units. About half of them will be reserved for formerly homeless individuals – some of whom are living with HIV/AIDS – and the other half will be much-needed units for low and moderate-income New Yorkers. With the shelter system straining beyond its capacity and the average shelter stay around 500 days, permanent housing options for New Yorkers experiencing homelessness are desperately needed. That’s why the Lirio is especially exciting, as it will provide more housing almost immediately. Supportive services will be provided by Housing Works, including on-site case management, specialized programming, and access to a nearby Housing Works health center providing HIV-specific primary and behavioral care.

Neighborhoods like Hell’s Kitchen – which has a median household income of $90,422 – offer ample resources. The neighborhood has access to grocery stores, farmers markets and restaurants, as well as many subway and bus lines. All New Yorkers should be able to easily get to their medical doctors, sit on a park bench, and eat healthily. These are things every New Yorker deserves – not just the people who pay the highest price.

Providing stable, affordable housing is not only a benefit to those who live there, but to the community as a whole.  According to a study done by NYU’s Furman Center, property located within 500 feet of a supportive housing building in New York City showed a steady growth in property value relative to other properties nearby. It also saves the city money because – believe it or not – housing people permanently greatly reduces the cycle of poverty. 

On top of that, housing is health care. For people with HIV/AIDS, having stable housing is crucial to staying on top of their health and keeping up with medications and appointments. According to a study done by the American Journal for Public Health, supportive housing reduced death among people with HIV/AIDS and found that residents were 63 percent more likely to be alive and have an intact immune system — a measure of disease progression. Hell’s Kitchen, a neighborhood with many decades of LGBTQ history and with the highest concentration of residents living with HIV/AIDS in NYC, is an ideal place for this project.

This July is Homeless Rights Month. The City Council must show homeless New Yorkers, low-income folks, and those living with HIV/AIDS that they care about our futures by voting yes to the Lirio. 

Christopher Murray is a resident of Hell’s Kitchen and a volunteer with the Open Hearts Initiative.