The city of Atlanta is months late in dispersing hundreds of millions of dollars in federal grant money used to subsidize housing for low-income people living with HIV, as well as a myriad of community support groups.
Both sides are pointing fingers, but multiple support agencies indicate the problems with the city are not isolated. Nearly 250 clients who depend on the rent subsidies are facing the threat of imminent eviction due to a lack of funding by the city.
The Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS (HOPWA) Program by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is the only federal program dedicated to meeting the housing needs of people living with HIV. Under the program, HUD makes grants to states and local communities, who in turn fund nonprofit organizations that benefit low-income persons and their families living with HIV.
While HUD is fully funded, roughly $41 million of $101 million in grants are sitting dormant. A city spokesperson, Michael Smith, indicated the number was closer to $31 million. Regardless, contracting agencies are not receiving their funding and the people these programs are designed to help are needlessly suffering. Rather than fixing the problem, the process is mired in finger-pointing.
“This is an absolute absurdity,” Larry Lehman, CEO of Positive Impact Health Centers told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “Agencies cannot fund the city of Atlanta when they’re sitting on $41 million.”
Living Room is another agency that uses HOPWA funding to provide stable housing for persons living with HIV. Executive director Jerome Brooks has been in his position for roughly a year, and told the Journal Constitution that the city is nearly $500K behind in payments to the agency. Brooks claims the problems started when Living Room proposed a reorganization of the grant distribution system. The city was habitually late in making payments, and the feeling was that the community would be better served by agencies assuming that responsibility. Brooks told the Journal Constitution that the city administrators were not warm to the idea.
“The folks involved had a really strong negative reaction to it,” Brooks told the outlet.
As a result of the lack of funding, Living Room had to furlough employees and landlords have started the eviction process for 250 of their clients. The city claims there are issues with the agency, and some complaints would indicate there is truth to the assertion. One person spoke to the Journal Constitution on the condition of anonymity. He indicated Living Room had a history of losing his paperwork, but that he is dependent upon them not just for his rent subsidy. His dialysis program is predicated on having a stable home.
“I can’t afford to get kicked out,” he told the newspaper. “If I miss dialysis one time I could die.”
The problem is ongoing and, unfortunately, little progress is being made in resolving the situation.
“Honestly, everybody is blaming each other,” Stefanie Sparks, an attorney at Atlanta Legal Aid Society recently said to the Journal Constitution. “At the end of the day, we’re concerned with the estimated 250 clients that will be affected.”