The waiting game

Dec 23, 1998 at 12:00 am

A nonprofit group trying to create housing for homeless people with HIV/AIDS says it's running into two problems: The Detroit city government and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The Cass Corridor Neighborhood Development Corporation (CCNDC) has been trying to create permanent housing for this population for more than three years. But their efforts have been thwarted every step of the way, says CCNDC Executive Director Karen McLeod. The group hopes to create housing for up to 100 homeless people with AIDS.

The project, initially planned for the historic Temple Towers, was opposed by the Masons who run the Masonic Temple across from the building. The Masons unsuccessfully sued the city to block it from selling the building, which CCNDC bought for $1 last year.

In April, HUD called a meeting and told CCNDC that it was withdrawing support for the project unless the group found a site other than Temple Towers. HUD had awarded the group a 10-year, $314-per-unit-per-month rent subsidy worth $2.4 million ("Plan goes awry," MT, May 20-26, 1998).

McLeod says she and others involved in the project met with Mayor Dennis Archer about HUD's decision. She says the mayor agreed to find another site and provide a letter entitling them to the new property. But it has been eight months since Archer met with McLeod and she says the city still has not provided the group with a site or the necessary papers. Archer's press secretary Anthony Neeley would not give specifics, but says the city is making progress on the issue.

Earlier this month, McLeod says, the group's project suffered another blow when HUD officials told her that even if the city did provide the group with a site, the $2.4 million could not legally be used for new construction, but only for rehabilitation.

This angers McLeod, who says the group was considering constructing new housing rather than restoring an old building because the city said it would be less costly.

According to Marilyn Mullane, Michigan Legal Service attorney and CCNDC board member, there isn't any basis in law for the HUD decision. "There is nothing in the statute that would prohibit use (of the vouchers) for new construction," she says.

HUD spokesperson Ken Barnard said that the housing authority is basing their decision on federal law which states that "the amounts made available ... shall be used only in connection with the moderate rehabilitation of housing ... for occupancy by homeless individuals. ..."

Mullane says that the city and HUD should be working together to make the project happen, which is seriously needed.

"We are in desperate need of affordable housing in this city, and we cannot afford to lose this subsidy," she says. Currently, there are about 30 beds in Detroit for homeless people with HIV/AIDS, according to Rob Setzer, executive director of Wellness House, which provides temporary shelter and services to this population.

Setzer, whose group is to provide services to the CCNDC project, says about 1,050 infected people in Detroit need housing. Setzer suspects that the setbacks CCNDC has faced are because the city and HUD are not committed to housing this population.

"That's all I can gather," he says. "We have lost beds in the city and the epidemic is not going away. If anything, it's getting worse."