I stumbled upon a recent item in the business press: "With 40,000 foreclosures burdening its books in the first quarter alone, Bank of America will begin bulldozing and giving away abandoned homes it can’t sell. The bank will hand over 100 homes to a local agency in Cleveland, with similar plans scheduled for Chicago and Detroit. Other banks and Fannie Mae are also considering programs of their own."
This is good news for social service agencies that supply low-cost housing for those in need. And, although there are hundreds of different categories of low-cost housing, I would like to focus on just one special program that supplies housing and additional services to people with HIV, or, technically speaking, the human immunodeficiency virus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).
(People can be infected with HIV and not have AIDS; they do not have AIDS until they develop serious symptoms. Many remain infected but apparently healthy for years.)
Most folks aren’t aware of it, but for more than 20 years the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has offered a housing program called Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS, which is mostly known by its acronym, HOPWA.
HOPWA funds may be used for a wide range of housing, social services, program planning and development costs. These include, but are not limited to, the acquisition, rehabilitation or new construction of housing units.
In 1992, HOPWA received its first funding of $47 million. For fiscal year 2011, the funding reached $334 million and it was allocated across 134 communities, with 26 competitive grant renewals.
The overriding concept with HOPWA is that people with HIV adhere to their medications much better when they have somewhere safe, decent and affordable to live.
Last year, about 91 percent of the people eligible for the program were extremely low-income and 7 percent just low-income, said Mercedes Marquez, HUD’s assistant secretary for community planning and development. "This is an incredibly targeted program.
And of those served in 2010 — over 2,300 people — about 13 percent were homeless and HIV-positive at the point of entry into the program. Of all the clients served in 2010, nearly 2,500 were veterans."
As the medical response to the disease has changed and people are living longer, housing needs have changed as well.
"Before, the need was so great, the disease progressing so quickly, people’s health status was so precious, the most effective thing to do was group people together so as to get them the services they needed," Marquez said.
"Now, people can live more independently and are more integrated into the community. Almost 49 percent of HOPWA money is actually used as a housing subsidy in the form of tenant-based rental assistance."
AIDS Alabama, based in Birmingham, calls itself the only organization in the state that focuses on providing housing to needy individual and families with HIV/AIDS, because, said Kathie Hiers, CEO of the nonprofit, "national research shows 40-60 percent of all persons living with HIV/AIDS report a lifetime experience of homelessness or housing instability."
AIDS Alabama owns a number of properties that it uses for permanent and transitional housing, and has other housing assistance programs.
"We just bought a six-plex apartment in a part of Birmingham that is not in real good shape right now, but folks are moving in and trying to build up the area," Hiers said. "We just got a homeless grant to renovate it."
Asked if the recession has been helpful or harmful to her program, Hiers said, "In these economic times it’s been challenging, but at the same time real estate has never been cheaper. We have been able to use a bit of HOPWA funding to leverage other funding sources to develop some housing."
HUD’s response to the foreclosure crisis has been a series of programs aimed at stabilizing individual markets, including about $7 billion through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. Executives of nonprofits usually leverage one HUD program with another HOPWA or with other various local funding sources to get housing constructed, or reconstructed.
AIDS Alabama has benefited from a volunteer effort from Auburn University’s architectural school, which built two "green" structures for the nonprofit, one using hay in the walls for insulation and another that used railroad cars. Recently, another local nonprofit rehabbed a number of homes that had been in foreclosure and gave three to AIDS Alabama.
Similarly, Clare Housing in Minneapolis has strung together a number of projects to house people with HIV/AIDS. Currently, the organization operates six adult foster care homes, a 32-unit supportive housing development, and 20 units of scattered-site housing.
HOPWA funds were used to develop two Clare Housing structures, including the 32-unit supportive housing building, said Lee Lewis, Chare Housing’s executive director.
"These buildings didn’t exist before the HOPWA grants," Lewis said. "You usually have to pull together a half dozen to a dozen different funding sources. Both these projects have HOPWA dollars and low-income housing credits."
The HOPWA funds, which can be substantial — the three-year HOPWA grant for Clare Housing’s supportive housing totaled $850,000 — often act as a catalyst for other funding.
"In each instance when we got the HOPWA award, it got the attention of all the other local fund sources, city, state and county," Lewis said. "It’s unusual for federal money to come into a project, so after we got the HOPWA award, the other fund sources got together and figured out how to get the package together and over the goal line."
When people move into Clare Housing homes, Lee said, "their viral loads go down; their CD4 counts go down; they become less likely to transmit the disease; and they have access to medical care."
Nonprofits like Clare Housing and AIDS Alabama have been very aggressive in acquiring and building housing, as well as supplying rental assistance, but it’s never enough.
As Marquez said, "We have over 1 million people in the country with AIDS and we estimate there are 125,000 households that have unmet housing needs of people living with HIV. With 56,000 new HIV cases annually, the need continues to grow."
Steve Bergsman is a freelance writer in Arizona and author of several books. His latest book, "Growing Up Levittown: In a Time of Conformity, Controversy and Cultural Crisis," is now available for sale on Amazon.com.
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