HUD ‘Chastises’ Lutheran Social Services for Inadequate HIV/AIDS Housing Program
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has "chastised" Lutheran Social Services of Northern California, a San Francisco not-for-profit group, for placing HIV/AIDS patients in residential hotels that " routinely violate" city housing codes and state elevator safety laws, the San Francisco Examiner reports. During a Nov. 6 meeting, HUD ordered the group to "work closely" with city housing inspectors to correct problems in the hotels. "We made it clear that under HUD programs, we expect our housing funds are going to be used to house people in decent, safe and sanitary environments," Joan Hall, a HUD official in San Francisco, said. Top officials from the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection, the Department of Public Health, the city attorney's office and the Mayor's Office of Housing also attended the meeting, Hall said. "Everybody met everybody -- that was useful," she added. Richard Stahlke, president of Lutheran Social Services, declined comment on the meeting or his discussions with HUD. "Until it's concluded, I think it's not appropriate to comment," he said. According to Hall, the group will survey the conditions in the hotels and report to HUD this week. Under the housing program, called the Bridge Project, HUD provides rent subsidies to Lutheran Social Services to place homeless HIV/AIDS patients with a history of substance abuse and mental illness in hotels. Participants also receive free medical, mental health and social services. Since the program began in 1996, Lutheran Social Services has placed 173 HIV/AIDS patients in residential hotels. Elevator Agony According to the Examiner, Lutheran Social Services has placed patients in the Hillsdale -- named one of the 10 worst residential hotels in San Francisco in 1999 by the city's Department of Building Inspection -- as well as the Aranda, Boyd, Mentone and Vincent hotels. While hotels were "ordered to provide basic amenities," such as heat, fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, clean public bathrooms and showers and safe elevators, and be free of bugs, rodents and trash, an Oct. 27 Examiner article showed that the elevator at the Boyd Hotel "has been broken for more than a year." In a Nov. 9 letter to Lutheran Social Services, HUD Regional Director Art Agnos warned the group's officials about the problems at Boyd, calling the broken elevator an "unacceptable lack of safe and sound living conditions." He wrote, "As you know, we remain deeply concerned that people with symptomatic AIDS are housed in a six-story building that reportedly has lacked effective elevator service for over a year. It is my understanding from our program office and (HUD's) senior community builder that one client with severe asthma has to walk up six flights to his room, leaving him exhausted." Agnos also urged Lutheran Social Services to "take advantage" of a city law that allows tenants to petition the Rent Board for a rent reduction because of a decrease in services, noting that rent reductions "could be significant" for residents at Boyd. "The fact that the landlord could be obligated for a large retroactive rent refund certainly provides additional rationale for a speedy resolution of this unacceptable situation," Agnos wrote, adding, "It is important for you to know that it does not place current residents in any jeopardy of losing their residence through any retaliatory eviction." In an Oct. 12 letter, Charles Hauptman, director of HUD's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Employment, told Lutheran Social Services that federal law requires landlords to make "reasonable accommodations" for disabled residents, adding that HUD would help the group write letters for clients who wanted to move to a room on a lower floor "without being penalized financially." When All Else Fails ... Sue Meanwhile, the Tenderloin Housing Clinic recently sued the Boyd Hotel on behalf of 11 residents. Filed Oct. 20 in San Francisco Superior Court, the lawsuit charges that the hotel's owners and managers "failed to fix severe health, safety and fire hazards," despite orders from city and state officials, and claims that residents suffered a variety of "defective living conditions," including an unsafe elevator, unsanitary showers, filthy bathrooms, insecure door locks, rodents and frequent power failures (Sullivan, San Francisco Examiner, 11/17).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.