HIV agency drops explosive lawsuit against City of Atlanta

The nonprofit that claimed the City of Atlanta was out to “destroy” its housing services for people with HIV dropped its lawsuit, claiming the agency has been paid “most of” what the city owes it.

Living Room dismissed the suit due to “recently [receiving] a payment from the City of Atlanta that represents most of the amount in dispute and in order to avoid the further expense and distraction of continued litigation,” according to an Aug. 21 filing in Fulton County Superior Court.

Living Room filed the explosive lawsuit in July, claiming that a city official — who was later fired — retaliated against the group’s executive director after he spurned the man’s sexual advances. The nonprofit also claimed that the city had “flagrant breaches” in its HIV housing program, Housing Opportunities for People With AIDS (HOPWA).

Living Room claimed the city owed it about $480,000 in reimbursements for subsidizing the rent of low-income people living with HIV. The city claimed Living Room wasn’t following federal guidelines and canceled the nonprofit’s HOPWA contract on July 3. That caused about 230 Living Room clients to risk being evicted and sparked a crisis.

But on Wednesday, a city spokesperson confirmed that Living Room was paid about $371,600 for the nonprofit’s April and May expenses. Living Room will not receive the remaining amount, the city official said.

“The city determined that $110,046.16 of the total requested reimbursement was HOPWA noncompliant, and we did not pay that amount,” Press Secretary Michael Smith told Project Q Atlanta in a statement. “The Living Room’s counsel confirmed that the payment was received on Friday, August 16.”

Smith did not respond to Project Q’s question about whether the city plans to reinstate Living Room’s contract. That leaves the nonprofit’s future in doubt, as city funds accounted for about 90 percent of the group’s revenue. The dismissal of the lawsuit also drops the injunction against the city that could have allowed Living Room to continue providing services.

Jerome Brooks (photo right), Living Room's executive director, did not respond to Project Q’s questions about the group’s future or the lawsuit. A call to his office number could not be completed, and a call to Living Room’s main line went to a voicemail the says the agency is closed until Wednesday.

Living Room’s lawsuit was another chapter in a years-long struggle with the city’s management of HOPWA. 

The city has failed to spend $40.1 million in HOPWA funding, according to the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development. The city contends the amount is actually $31.6 million.

The city announced plans to restructure the HOPWA program starting in fiscal year 2020. It also deployed outreach teams across the city to secure housing for former Living Room clients.

About one-third of the 230 clients had their housing situation stabilized as of Aug. 5. Some 110 former Living Room clients had been referred to other HOPWA agencies for assistance. The city had not been able to reach some 40 others.

The Atlanta City Council on Aug. 5 authorized $1.5 million in emergency aid for HOPWA agencies that took on former Living Room clients.

(h/t AJC)