NYC HRA officials testified at yesterday's City Council General Welfare Committee hearing on recent policy changes to HASA that new changes in HASA policies didn't harm clients. But there was plenty of testimony by providers and HASA clients that proved otherwise.
HASA Deputy Commissioner Jacqueline Dudley read a prepared statement in which she noted that since HASA instituted the policy last March to only pay half of a month's rent for the broker to find a HASA client an apartment, the number of HASA clients asking for apartment approvals has not decreased, but the policy had saved the city $4million. She also said she was unaware of a widespread problem the policy has caused: landlords and brokers who are demanding that HASA clients come up with the other half of the fee.
But many advocates said that they knew clients who sold their HIV medications, borrowed from loan sharks, or even turned to sex work in order to make up the other half of the deposit. The AIDS Issues Update reported last November that Harlem United had spent $27,000 of its own money to help clients pay the other half of the broker's fee, which Dudley said was against the rules.
"Clients aren't telling their HASA case workers because they're often afraid they'll lose their benefits," said Kristin Goodwin, director of NYC policy and organizing with Housing Works.
Dudley said that the list of brokers that accept HASA clients is regularly reviewed and updated for new brokers and shady ones are deleted, but advocates said differently.
Shirlene Cooper, HASA Advisory Board member and client told the committee, "I've called every single number of HASA brokers on the list and all of them I spoke to said they required the full first month's rent fee."
The other policy discussed at the hearing was the policy announced by HRA Commissioner Doar on December 1, 2011 (oddly, on a Huffington Post blog, not an official NYC press release) that would, according to Doar's HuffPost blog post, penalize HASA clients who wanted assistance in rent arrears payments or with getting into permanent housing.
Both Dudley and Frank Lipton, M.D. (an HRA official), said at the hearing that refusing substance treatment was only one factor that would be considered by a case worker in determining whether a HASA client would receive rental assistance in permanent housing or other cash assistance -- like helping with rent or utilities that are in the arrears.
This contradicts both the written policy, and what Doar wrote in the Huffington Post last month, in which he stated "HASA clients who choose to not participate in substance abuse treatment based on an assessment's recommendation are faced with a choice: they will be offered a supportive housing placement, or they could lose the ability to receive above-enhanced rental assistance or be denied their request for rent arrears payments."
Advocates told the committee that the second option offered to clients, supportive housing, was an offer in name only, as there are not enough supportive housing units in the city. Not only are there not enough supportive housing units available, but advocates also reminded the committee that HASA has consistently proposed cuts to supportive housing in the city budget for the last several years.
"The money that we save, is saved when we keep people healthy for longer periods of time," said James Van Bramer, NYC Councilman. "I don't understand why we would erect any barrier to getting people into stable housing."