AIDS TENANTS ON A SHORT LEASE

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Over a thousand formerly homeless people with AIDS in a city-sponsored housing program could land back on the street, advocates say, if the city goes ahead with a plan to cap rent subsidies and force participants to deal one-on-one with landlords.

In the current scatter site program, which serves 1,760 people, the city pays community-based AIDS service providers to act as liaisons between their clients and landlords. The providers rent blocks of apartments, sublet them to the clients, and pay the rent with funds from the clients, the city and other sources. The program allows tenants to learn life management skills, like paying rent on time, without getting evicted if they miss a payment, because the provider will cover for delinquent tenants.

But under a new proposal made by Department of AIDS Services and Income Support chief Gregory Caldwell in August, the city wants the leases transferred into tenants’ names, removing providers from the equation. Rent subsidies will also be capped at $650 a month. Clients who now pay more than that will have to either talk the landlord into lowering the rent, pay the difference themselves, or move.

But housing advocates fear that landlords might throw out tenants who can’t afford market rate rents, or that they will refuse to transfer leases from community groups to tenants in the first place. Several activists picketed Caldwell’s home Wednesday night to protest his proposal.

Caldwell’s department says it had no choice, because recent rent law changes allow these landlords to either refuse to renew leases with corporate or organizational tenants–like the providers–or increase their rents by up to 20 percent annually. Switching the leases to tenants was the only way to keep the program feasible. “We have to deal with the laws, too,” said Human Resources Administration spokesperson Debra Sproles.