Over the last few months, there have been a lot of rumors about HASA changing its housing policies, including word from CBOs and case managers that leases for one-bedroom apartments were no longer being accepted, making it dangerously difficult for people living with HIV/AIDS in the city to find housing.
Rather than breaking down the doors to HASA and staging a revolt, Housing Works invited John Ruscillo -- Director of Housing Services at HASA, and Sharon Jordan -- Deputy Director of Eligibility at HASA, to speak to Housing Works' staff, clients, and other community members to help dispel some of the mystery -- and frustration -- about any changes HASA has made to its policies.
And so yesterday, John and Sharon hosted a town hall at Housing Works' Downtown Brooklyn location to discuss what exactly is new about HASA's policies.
The latest change?
Single HASA clients without children are now only eligible for studio apartments. This change marks HASA's fourth policy change in just over two years, and is the same policy that HASA Deputy Commissioner Jacqueline Dudley suggested was just "a rumor" in a public meeting just months previous. Previous changes include HASA's sudden announcement that they were only going to pay 50% of brokers' fees no longer paying a security deposit, providing only a security "voucher," and lastly, instituting a substance abuse screening policy into housing eligibility and arrears applications. Under this latest policy, dubbed "studios for singles," HASA hopes to find studios for clients that cost, on average, around $1,000.
Understandably, the case managers, CBO representatives, and HASA clients in the room erupted in shock at this hopeful (or unrealistic) figure. With this new "studios for singles" policy, finding and securing housing for HASA clients is now as much of an uphill battle as it can possibly be, asking people to find a cheap studio -- a feat in and of itself -- while also only being able to pay with a rental assistance program and with only half of the brokers' fee.
And, like the previous two HASA policy changes, the "studios for singles" policy went into effect without any outreach describing the change and without any community input. In fact, John and Sharon stated that this change was only conveyed internally to HASA staff, and no attempt was made to relay this information to the thousands of case managers and hundreds of thousands people living with HIV/AIDS across the city.
The backbone of the policy, however counterintuitively, appears to reside in HASA's case-by-case financial assessment (CBCFA) policy, which allows clients and their case managers to appeal the need for apartments that are one-bedrooms or are past a particular price point.
"For instance," Sharon Jordan said, "if a client needs a home attendant or live-in nurse at home, then they should apply for an one-bedroom apartment and explain on the application why this particular apartment is necessary for them. That's what CBCFA is for -- to make sure that we understand what it is you're asking for and why you need it."
She went onto explain that there are three HASA staff members who oversee the CBCFA requests, and that ultimately, they are looking for the best deal for the clients. "Listen, I am not going to put a client in an apartment that I wouldn't live in myself. When we assess applications for housing, we are looking at a number of factors when we approve or reject them. Does the client have income? Has the client moved every year? Is the client applying for an apartment in a building with HPD violations? Is the client reapplying for maybe a more expensive apartment but has also lived there for multiple years? These are all things that we are going to consider when case managers are submitting applications to us." She also stated that applications were more likely to be accepted for a two-year leases and apartments that include heat and hot water.
What's more, John Ruscillo stated that despite this new HASA policy, they will not be evicting people that currently live in one-bedroom apartments. Ultimately, both HASA spokespeople stressed that if a client applies for a particular apartment and is denied, that the client and case manager can always "reapply for re-approval."
While the Town Hall was certainly a good step in creating a productive dialogue between HASA and the city's AIDS community, many left the town hall with more concern than relief.
"With this new housing requirement," Housing Works' Care Coordinator Kristin Goodwin said, "I'm concerned that it will be harder to find apartments that HASA will approve, effectively lengthening a clients' search for housing, and potentially, the longer they will have to stay in SROs or other emergency shelter. I'm unconvinced that the 'studios for singles' policy will save any money and may in fact cost the city considerably more in the long term."
In addition, many case managers and clients at the town hall expressed frustration that this policy change was not publically relayed on April 1st, citing all of the time and energy that could have been saved had HASA been open about the change from the beginning. One case manager asked to see the policy in writing, and was told that she would not be able to at this time.
While Housing Works thanks John Ruscillo and Sharon Jordan for coming to talk to the community, it remains clear that concerns over HASA's lack of communication may be very well-founded.