Federal investigation targets Atlanta’s HIV housing program

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The City of Atlanta’s beleaguered housing program for low-income people with HIV is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development, according to the AJC.

The Housing Opportunities for People With AIDS (HOPWA) program has been plagued by issues for years over major delays in payments to housing agencies, mistakes in the application process and inconsistencies in funding decisions. The city’s dispute with one HOPWA agency led to aneviction crisis, an explosive lawsuit and the non-profit filing bankruptcy.

HUD asked its Departmental Enforcement Center to initiate an investigation of the city’s HOPWA program in July, according to HUD spokesperson Joe Phillips.

“The completion date of the DEC Review is October 2019 and based on the recommendation, HUD will take appropriate action,” he told Project Q Atlanta in a statement.

The DEC requested a heap of city documents pertaining to the HOPWA program and sent a team of investigators to City Hall in July to review records and speak to officials, according to the AJC.

A city spokesperson did not respond to Project Q’s request for comment.

HUD awards an annual HOPWA grant to the city, which is then responsible for disbursing the funds to HOPWA agencies to subsidize the rent of the agencies’ clients. The city has been criticized for failing to spend tens of millions of dollars in HOPWA funds. The city is working on distributing $37.7 million in HOPWA funds going back to 2014, according to HUD. The city contends that the figure is $31.2 million.

Living Room dispute investigated

HUD’s investigation covers the city’s dispute with former HOPWA agency Living Room, according to the AJC.

The city claimed Living Room provided shoddy work and wasn’t following HUD regulations. The city terminated the group’s contract in July, leaving hundreds of people with HIV facing eviction. Living Room then filed an explosive lawsuit alleging that the city was out to “destroy” the group and that a former city official was retaliating against the group’s executive director for spurning his sexual advances.

Living Room dropped the suit in August, claiming the city paid the group “most of” what it was owed. The group filed for bankruptcy and shut down in early September. Some 70 percent of the victims of the eviction crisis have had their housing situation stabilized, but the search continues for about 50 former Living Room clients who have been unreachable.

Todd Mitchell, the head of Rebirth Housing, was interviewed as part of the HUD investigation, according to the AJC. Rebirth Housing is a for-profit group that received funding from Living Room. He claimed that the city had a “vendetta” against Living Room, abused its power and should no longer administer the HOPWA program.

Facing growing scrutiny, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (photo) announced a restructuring of the HOPWA program in July. The plan is to move management of HOPWA from the city to the non-profit Partners for Home, which manages the city’s homeless services grant from HUD. The city will finalize the move in October, according to Jon Keen, the city’s deputy CFO. But HUD and the Atlanta City Council need to approve the plan first.

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