HUD Official Addresses HOPWA Hot Topics, Including Immigration, in Toronto

Márquez says data-driven HUD will reward innovation over compliance.
Márquez says data-driven HUD will reward innovation over compliance.

The North American Housing and HIV/AIDS Research Summit is being held in Toronto this week. A collaboration between the National AIDS Housing Coalition, the Ontario HIV Treatment Network and the Department of Health, Behavior and Society of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the conference is the fifth gathering of people living with HIV/AIDS, researchers and providers to promote a evidence-based public policy agenda forging the link between HIV prevention and treatment.

U.S. housing official Mercedes Márquez served as the summit's headline speaker on Thursday. In her speech, she touched on a number of key national AIDS housing topics.

Márquez, who serves the assistant secretary of community planning and development at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), opened by addressing housing providers' concerns regarding changes to Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA), a federally-funded program that's been critical in helping low-income individuals with AIDS get housing.

Notably, she recognized that current HOPWA funding is inadequate in meeting the housing needs of individuals with HIV and AIDS. In Fiscal Year 2010 Congress provided $335 million for HOPWA but advocates say the number should be closer to $410 million.

Her speech caused a flurry of excitement when she was asked about HOPWA housing and immigration. Traditionally, HOPWA has been more flexible than other HUD programs in terms of housing immigrant families, including families of mixed legal status. Given planned changes at HUD, activists are concerned that people living with HIV/AIDS may not be able to access many of the HUD funding streams. Márquez, however, told the room full of housing advocates that the U.S. justice department's rules on housing mixed families are "a bit vague" and instructed them that they should "take that and run with it."

"We need to make sure we don't discriminate against immigrant children," she said.

Márquez also announced plans for greater collaboration within HUD, and announced that HUD officials plan to travel the country to assess how each local jurisdiction can improve the way it develops its Consolidated Plan, the plan each jurisdiction uses to address its housing needs.