Holding the HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA) Accountable

The City Council General Welfare Committee held a hearing into recent changes at the HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA) on February 8, 2012 that we believe will increase homelessness among low-income New Yorkers.  The hearing was covered by the Associated Press, “NY policymakers grilled over HIV/AIDS housing help,” which quoted VOCAL-NY’s Board Chair Wanda Hernandez criticizing one of the new policies mandating drug treatment. VOCAL-NY thanks the General Welfare Committee Chair, Annabel Palma, for being an energetic champion for low-income people living with HIV/AIDS and all of her colleagues on the committee who attended the hearing.

Shirlene Cooper & Wanda Hernandez testify at the City Council hearing.

The first policy change, implemented in March 2011, reduced the amount of broker’s fee payments by 50% for HASA clients looking for private market apartments and replaced security deposits with vouchers, exacerbating widespread discrimination by landlords and increasing waiting time in the shelter system (see City Limits: “City, AIDS Activists Clash Over Fees,” December 2011). A report by Shubert Botein Policy Associates revealed that this policy has become a significant barrier to permanent housing for homeless HASA clients.

The second policy change, implemented in November 2011, will deny housing assistance and arrears payments to HASA clients who refuse to participate in a limited range of abstinence-based drug treatment programs. Although data indicates that the severe rent share buden is the primary driver of rental arrears among HASA clients – not drug use – and that mandatory treatment is ineffective and wasteful, the Commissioner of the Human Resources Administration, which oversees HASA, gleefully announced the new policy in a Huffington Post op-ed where he declared they would be “tough” on substance abuse. In fact, housing status is a better predictor of connection to medical care and health outcomes than substance abuse, which South Brooklyn Legal Services highlighted in their testimony.

HASA’s testimony during the hearing was full of misleading information that concealed the negative impact and punitive motivation behind these policies.

VOCAL-NY submitted written testimony to the General Welfare Committee and Wanda Hernandez delivered oral testimony on our behalf (see video below).

Ginny Shubert from Shubert Botein Policy Associate’s written testimony explained problems with both new policies, and she also provided the Committee with the National AIDS Housing Coalition’s 2011 policy paper summarizing recent research on HIV/AIDS housing.

A comprehensive list of written testimony submitted by our allies follows the video.

Written testimony by our allies:

AIDS Center Queens County (ACQC)

Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies (FPWA)

Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC)

Harlem United

HIV Planning Council

Housing Works

Legal Aid

Partnership for the Homeless

South Brooklyn Legal Services (SBLS)

Supportive Housing Network of NY (SHNNY)

Village Care

Blog, Drug Policy, HIV/AIDS

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