As the HIV/AIDS Services Administration reviews bids for a revamped permanent housing program, advocates fear that a seemingly small technical change could leave hundreds of tenants at risk for eviction.
Under HASA’s new model—called Scatter Site 3—formerly homeless clients will be asked to sign their own names to leases in the agency’s 1,932 supported apartments peppered throughout buildings in the city. Under the current program, Scatter Site 1, nonprofit service providers sign the leases and sublet apartments to clients, charging the city an 8 percent fee for administering the program.
Looking to trim some of the fat out of HASA’s budget, which comes through the city’s vast Human Resources Administration (HRA), the city is shrinking the nonprofits’ intermediary role—and eliminating the administrative fee.
HRA spokesperson Hayley Friedman said the move reflects an overall desire of clients “to have more independence.” She did not return calls seeking additional information.
Jennifer Flynn, co-director of the city’s New York City Aids Housing Network, a HASA watchdog, disagrees. She says the city’s efforts to streamline permanent housing could leave clients without a safety net. “This leaves them wide open for eviction,” she said.
If a client can’t pay monthly rent under Scatter Site 1, she explained, a nonprofit provider might cover the cost. Evictions are relatively rare. But if those clients—many of whom suffer drug addiction, mental illness, and live on public assistance—fall behind on rent under Scatter Site 3, no one will be there to pick up the slack. Another concern: If the city’s payments to a provider or landlord are late (HASA has a reputation for such truancy) a client could be evicted too.
The transition also poses problems for providers. Strapped for funding, some social service groups fear they won’t be able to operate supported service programs without taking in the administration fee.
“How can we run a program with no money?” asks Puma Pearl, a program director for Discipleship Outreach Ministries, a nonprofit in Brooklyn, which hopes to renew its contract to operate 66 HASA units in Sunset Park. “Of all the models, Scatter 1 was the best,” Pearl said. “It works.”
Providers also fear that as the city looks to reduce costs, HASA will increasingly turn to private operators who might be cheaper but have already proven less sensitive to clients’ needs than their nonprofit counterparts. “We’ve seen it everywhere else for the same reasons,” said Flynn. “All non-profits aren’t perfect, but at least they have to be accountable to somebody.”