By Patrick Arden | Monday, Dec 12, 2011
Betsy Idelfonso, who is HIV positive, in the bedroom she hopes her twins will share when she regains custody of them. She blames city policy changes for the seven months it took her to get an apartment.
Besty Idelfonso spent months sleeping on the floor of her mother’s Bronx apartment. Homeless and on a regimen of antiretroviral drugs, she needed a stable place to stay. A social worker referred her to the city’s HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA), which provides rental assistance to poor New Yorkers with the disease, and Idelfonso pinned her hopes on the program. Having her own apartment would mean she could be reunited with her four-year-old twins.
But then, last spring, HASA decided to start paying only 50 percent of the normal fee for apartment brokers.
“The brokers expected me to pay the other half,” says Idelfonso, whose sole source of income is the monthly $359 in cash she gets from HASA. The broker’s full fee equaled one month’s rent; her half would have come to $550. “I didn’t have the money. I kept looking for places where they would accept the half fee, but it was a big problem.” Finding an apartment under the HASA program took her seven months.
Stories like Idelfonso’s are at the center of a bitter dispute between the Bloomberg administration and AIDS housing groups over the effects of a nine-month-old policy shift that slashed fees for real-estate brokers. The groups say that now brokers are refusing to find apartments for their HASA clients, mostly homeless people whose compromised immune systems require them to avoid shelters. Landlords, they add, are also reluctant to accept a HASA voucher instead of an upfront security deposit.
HASA serves nearly 46,000 people, and more than half live in private apartments paid for in whole or in part by rent subsidies. The city says the new policy changes have had no impact on housing homeless people with symptomatic HIV or AIDS. Idelfonso and others claim the city has created a crisis. The resulting standoff has taken a surreal turn, as the two sides describe different worlds.
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