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New HIV housing list debuts

by Seth Hemmelgarn

San Francisco officials have launched a new housing wait list for people who are living with HIV.

Plus Housing, a prioritized list of people looking for permanent housing units or subsidies, is federally funded by Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS and locally by San Francisco's general fund.

The list, which debuted in October, is operating as a pilot program for the first several months, according to the Mayor's Office of Housing and Community Development, which oversees the program.

To be eligible, one has to be living with HIV; have an annual household income that's less than 50 percent of the area median, which is currently $40,350 for one person; and have a rent that's more than 50 percent of their pre-tax monthly income.

Exemptions from the rent requirement include people who are homeless and people who are living in transitional housing.

Barry Roeder, the gay man living with HIV who serves as MOHCD's strategic project specialist, said that as of early November, the agency had received about 250 applications, which is "less than we expected."

Brian Basinger, executive director of Q Foundation (formerly the AIDS Housing Alliance), had thought that having HIV would be enough to get on the Plus list. Told by the Bay Area Reporter that that wasn't sufficient, Basinger said, "It's his program, so if that's what he says, then we have to believe it. ... I'm not trying to get into a tit for tat with MOHCD. In general, they're one of the most gracious and easiest to work with departments in the city."

Basinger, who's living with AIDS, added, "In my worldview, everybody with HIV in San Francisco would be able to get on a list for housing, especially since it's a wait list, and with the last wait list, people were waiting 15 years. By erecting barriers that prevent people from getting in line today, we are preventing them having access to a safety net when they might need it in five years, or 10 years, or 15 years" as their circumstances change.

"That's one of the struggles we had with these previous wait lists, and I thought it was one of the lessons we learned," he said.

Asked why having HIV isn't enough to make someone eligible for the program, Roeder said, "We're trying to reach the people that are in the greatest need. We have people who are making six figures a year and think, 'What the heck. A subsidy? I'll take the subsidy.'"

One of Basinger's main concerns is that many San Francisco residents who are living with HIV are also homeless.

"The disparities are criminal, and they are driven in part by the lack of focus on the housing needs of people with HIV and AIDS at City Hall, which is informed by the HIV community's lack of organizing to make sure that our needs are met," he said. "Their failure to provide an adequate response is the result of people with HIV's failure to demand it."

Basinger also said he had thought that people living with HIV could get on the list, and then "get bonus points" for meeting other criteria.

Someone may be on a list for 15 years, "so their rent-to-income ratio today has very, very little bearing on what their rent-to-income ratio might be in the future," said Basinger. "That calculation should only happen at the time that somebody is being called up."

Roeder, who volunteered that he's lived in a rent-controlled apartment in the city for 24 years, said there have been a couple of people who had expressed interest in getting onto the list but made too much money. He said that they've been welcomed to apply.

"We intend to keep this list open. ... The more urgent your financial situation is, the higher you'll rank," he said.

Despite his concerns, Basinger is still hopeful. The Q Foundation offers subsidies that are designed "specifically to help people when they're having a crisis, so when you take our subsidy program and Plus Housing in totality, it's actually a profound improvement in the system of care as a whole. We work hand in hand. We're emergency and they're long term."

For more information, go to http://sfmohcd.org/plus-housing. For information on the Q Foundation, visit http://theqfoundation.org/.

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