The U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD), which grants funds to cities and states for Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA), suspended Mississippi’s program in August 2012 for noncompliance with federal regulations. The suspension abruptly cut off all HOPWA funding for persons living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA), except in limited amounts for emergency situations, and left pending applications in limbo. Initially, the Mississippi Department of Health (MSDH) said the suspension would only last until November 2012. But as of this month, HOPWA applications are still pending and PLWHA are still not receiving the housing aid they need.
In February 2013, the MSDH sent a memo to State HIV Case Managers, AIDS Service Organizations, and Ryan White Grantee Programs explaining that HUD suspended the program for noncompliance with the Short-term Rent, Mortgage, and Utility (STRMU) federal requirements for documenting client eligibility based on housing need and planning for permanent housing. In addition to giving these reasons, the memo said that the STRMU program was “operating as a continuous rental assistance solution” whereas the HUD regulations intended for STRMU to provide only “short-term interventions.”
Last week, SASI convened a call and invited Dr. James Stewart, interim director of the Mississippi HIV/STD Office, to discuss the status of the HOPWA program with representatives from the community, academia, and non-profit and community-based organizations. Dr. Stewart stated that MSDH is working with consultants from HUD to reinstate the HOPWA program as soon as practicable. He assured the group that his office would release the new HOPWA policies and program details within a few weeks.
The anticipated changes include:
- Increased communication between MSDH and PLWHA about the HOPWA program;
- Increased eligibility for STRMU Assistance to 80% of the federal poverty level;
- Reinstated STRMU program and expanded Tenant-based Rental Assistance (TBRA) program to address a wider array of housing needs; and
- Increased collaboration with community partners.
Although the Mississippi HOPWA program clearly needed fixing, many PLWHAs and their advocates felt that the way the program suspension was handled was a disservice to PLWHA. The program was abruptly suspended with little explanation and without putting a temporary program in place, leaving HOPWA applicants without the resources to meet their housing needs. Eight months after the initial suspension, applications are still pending and PLWHA are not receiving the aid they need. However, it is encouraging that Dr. Stewart has now pledged to work with Mississippi housing advocates to find resources for PLWHA whose HOPWA applications are still pending.
If other states are at risk for similar suspensions, the state and HUD must work together to prioritize communication with PLWHA and to create temporary programs so that PLWHA do not needlessly suffer from bureaucratic red tape.
Find out more about STRMU eligibility.