Dallas man with HIV says housing stability helped him stay healthy. But late HOPWA payments led to his eviction, and a rising viral load
DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer firstname.lastname@example.org
“Housing stability has kept me out of the hospital,” said Dustin Mattlage, who has lived with HIV for 17 years.
But now, problems with the federal program that has helped give him stable housing is having a negative impact on his health.
In 2005, Mattlage began receiving assistance through Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS, a federal program better known as HOPWA. The program he relies on to keep a roof over his head is administered by the city, and Dallas consistently pays landlords late.
Mattlage said a recent 200-point drop in his CD4 count was caused by the stress of a current eviction demonstrates the importance of stable housing for people living with AIDS.
Don Maison, president and CEO of AIDS Services Dallas, agrees.
“I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen who have been told by their doctors they had weeks to live,” Maison said. “One guy moved into Ewing on May 1, 1996. He is thriving.”
People living with AIDS in stable housing have an 80 percent reduction in mortality, Maison said one study showed. Another study indicated the death rate is seven to nine times higher among people with AIDS who are homeless.
HOPWA supports a number of programs, including acquisition and rehabilitation of housing units, that have benefited ASD.
Other programs provide rental assistance and prevent homelessness, targeting individuals who are not in housing like ASD or Villages at Samaritan House in Fort Worth. In Dallas, the city and county run two of those programs.
The city provides temporary, emergency assistance. A person with HIV can apply for that help and Dallas will pay rent for up to five months a year. Fort Worth runs a similar program.
A county program that receives HOPWA funding provides permanent assistance.
According to a HUD study released earlier this year, renting apartments is cheaper than placing people in homeless shelters, even before the cost of extra services such as more emergency room visits is added.
Mattlage said that if he were homeless, he’d have no way to refrigerate the medication that has kept him out of Parkland.
With a stable home, Mattlage said, rather than worrying about where he was going to spend the night, he re-entered the workforce.
Before moving into the Bailiwick, an apartment complex in Oak Lawn, Mattlage made sure the complex accepted HOPWA payments without late fees. He lost a previous apartment because even though HOPWA emergency funds covered his rent when he was sick, late charges he couldn’t cover mounted to more than $1,000.
While payments from the city-managed program are reliable, they are also consistently late.
To receive payments from the city, a landlord signs up as a vendor on the City Hall website. They also sign a payment agreement and check off “Yes, I am willing to wait for payment. (By checking this box, I agree to wait 6-8 weeks for payment to be processed. I also agree that late charges will cease upon the date of this agreement).”
Earlier this year, Kevin Forhan purchased the Bailiwick.
Forhan said he could not comment for the story because of ongoing litigation with Mattlage but would talk to Dallas Voice after that pending case is resolved.
Unrelated to Mattlage, he made one comment about the program.
“I think the bureaucracy makes it difficult for a small business to deal with it,” he said.
The pending litigation he referred to began in May.
On May 19, Mattlage received a notice of rental arrears. On June 16, he was served with an eviction notice with a June 21 court date.
While presiding Justice of the Peace Luis Sepulveda sympathized with Mattlage, he found no grounds for refusing the eviction. Mattlage did receive a stay, however, by filing an immediate appeal on grounds of housing discrimination based on disability. HUD referred the complaint to the city’s Fair Housing Office.
The court date for the appeal was July 22. Although he expected to lose, that delay gave Mattlage a month, rather than five business days, to find a new place to live and move.
He is now on permanent housing assistance in the HOPWA program managed by the county. Once Mattlage found his new apartment, the county scheduled an inspection to make sure the new apartment meets certain minimum standards and safety requirements. They also checked that the apartment is the size allowed and not a larger apartment that the client could sublet to a roommate for profit.
As expected, Mattlage lost his appeal on June 22, but was given an extra week for the county to approve the new residence and move.
Mattlage said receiving HOPWA emergency assistance is easy: To get temporary help from the city, bring a rental arrears notice, a copy of the lease and a current letter of diagnosis. “They want to know you’re currently getting treatment,” he said.
Mattlage said he found a lot of AIDS-related discrimination in housing in Oak Lawn.
While calling apartment complexes, he asked if they accepted Section 8 housing vouchers, a HUD program that subsidizes shelter for low-income individuals and families.
If they said they would, he asked if they accepted HOPWA. Most of those Oak Lawn properties that took Section 8 said they would not accept HOPWA.
Mattlage praised the HOPWA programs and said the city emergency help was easy to access. Getting an appointment with the county took more persistence. But both require some legwork.
“You have to be proactive,” he said.
City officials did not return calls seeking comment.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 23, 2010