Project Independence is a shallow rent subsidy program with services coordination support for very low-income people with HIV/AIDS who live in Alameda County, California. An evaluation of the program found significantly greater housing stability among program participants compared to similar people who did not participate in the program (a comparison group). At two years follow-up, only 10 percent of comparison group members were still housed in a rental unit compared to 96 percent of Project Independence participants. The program is one of very few to evaluate the impact of a permanent, shallow rent subsidy on housing stability over time.
Problem or Challenge:
Project Independence was developed in response to the findings of a 1995 survey conducted with 600 people living with HIV/AIDS in Alameda County, which found that almost half were at risk of losing their rental housing if their incomes dropped by as little as $100 a month. The target population for Project Independence is very low-income people living with HIV/AIDS who have a place to live but are at high risk of homelessness due to the high ratio of rent-to-income and vulnerability due to their disease. By providing a small rental subsidy to eligible individuals and their families, the program aims to prevent homelessness before it starts.
Project Independence (PI) is a rental housing assistance program for very low-income people living with HIV/AIDS in Alameda County, California. In existence since 1997, it features three components: an ongoing shallow rent subsidy, case management focused on ensuring participants have the range of services they need to continue to live independently, and accessibility assistance or repairs to modify participants’ units if necessary to help them remain in their housing. The program was created as a Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) Special Project of National Significance and continues to operate as a HOPWA Permanent Supportive Housing Project.
To be eligible for PI, a household must include one or more adults diagnosed with HIV or AIDS, have an income at or below 50 percent of the area median income (AMI), and have a lease on an apartment or house that meets HUD-HOPWA rent and HOPWA Habitability Standards. Priority is given to households with extremely low incomes; at least 65 percent of participants have incomes below 25 percent of AMI. Single adults, adult couples, and families with children are all eligible, although most participants have been single adults.
PI is a collaboration of the County Housing and Community Development Department (HCD) and three community-based nonprofit “hub” agencies. Since the founding of the program, these three agencies have also received Ryan White CARE Act funds, which are used to provide primary care and support services for people with HIV/AIDS. The hub agencies accept program applications, issue the rent subsidy checks to landlords, and provide tenants with service coordination, including referrals to supportive services. HCD approves applications, coordinates the overall program, and conducts initial housing quality inspections.
Rental housing assistance
The PI program provides shallow rent subsidies to more than 100 households annually. The amount of rental housing assistance is a flat monthly amount determined through a simple formula that takes into account the size of the household and the size of the housing unit (number of bedrooms). For example, a person living in a one-bedroom apartment can receive a monthly subsidy of up to $225. The tenant pays the difference between the subsidy amount and the apartment rent. The subsidy may be reduced if the full amount would bring the tenant’s portion of the rent below 30% of their adjusted income.
Because market rents in Alameda County are so high, the average household enters the program paying over 60 percent of its income in rent. With the PI subsidy, the average household pays about 40 percent of its income in rent. While this does not bring most participants’ rent payments down to the affordability standard of 30 percent of income, it nearly doubles a participant’s disposable income. PI participants continue to receive the rental housing assistance for as long as they remain eligible for the program – there is no time limit on the subsidy.
In addition to the shallow rent subsidies, participants are provided with case management and services coordination delivered by the hub agency paying their rent subsidy. Participants also have access to a range of community-based services for persons living with HIV/AIDS. Contact with a case manager/services coordinator is required on a quarterly basis, at minimum, for all PI program participants.
The first Project Independence evaluation, issued in 2002, found that clients enrolled in PI from project inception in March 1997 through October 2001 stayed independently housed significantly longer than people who were not in the program but presumptively eligible for it. When adjusted for socio-demographic, HIV disease, and behavioral health characteristics, members of a comparison group of individuals who met program eligibility criteria but were not enrolled in the program were much more likely to leave their rental housing at any given point in time compared to Project Independence program participants. After one year of follow-up, an estimated 99 percent of PI participants were still living in their rental unit, compared to only 32 percent of comparison group clients, adjusted for socio-demographic, HIV-related, and behavioral health factors. At two years follow-up only 10 percent of comparison group clients were still housed in a rental unit compared to 96 percent of PI participants. At three years, 78 percent of PI participants remained housed, compared to only 2.4 percent of non-participants in the comparison group.
The Phase 2 evaluation extended the Phase 1 study by monitoring the housing outcomes of PI clients only – including those who were part of the original evaluation and those who entered the program after October 2001– for an additional four years, until December 2005. As in the Phase 1 evaluation, program participants were followed from the time they enrolled in the program until program exit, or until the most recent observation of their housing status, if still enrolled in the program. The evaluation data source is a database of program participants maintained by HCD.
In the 8.7 years from the inception of Project Independence in March 1997 to December 2005, when final data were obtained for the Phase 2 evaluation, PI provided assistance to a total of 289 individuals and their families. Most program participants were 31 to 50 years old (78 percent), male (78 percent), black (55 percent), living alone (77 percent), and had an AIDS diagnosis at the beginning of program enrollment (63 percent). Before receiving the subsidy, 74 percent of participant households had income at or below 25 percent of AMI.
The estimated average time that PI clients remained in program-assisted rental housing without interruption was almost seven years. One year after enrolling in the program, an estimated 94 percent of participants were still living in their rental unit, and 86 percent were still in their program-assisted unit at the two-year follow-up. Evaluators estimated that two-thirds of participants were still living in their program-assisted rental unit seven years after enrollment in the program. These results attest to the success of Project Independence in meeting its objective of helping low income HIV positive individuals and their families maintain housing stability.
Contact Info for Follow-up:
Alameda County Housing and Community Development Department
Resources and References:
Dasinger LK, Speiglman R. (Jun 19, 2007). Homelessness prevention: the effect of a shallow rent subsidy program on housing outcomes among people with HIV or AIDS. AIDS and Behavior, Nov 2007;11(6 Suppl):128-39. Epub. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17577657
Dasinger, L.K and R. Speiglman, (April 28, 2006) Alameda County, Project Independence Evaluation, Phase 2, A Longitudinal Study of a Shallow Rent Subsidy Program for People with HIV/AIDS, Speiglman Norris Associates, Oakland CA.
Dasinger, L.K and R. Speiglman (2002). Alameda County Project Independence Evaluation: Final Report. Berkeley: Public Health Institute.
Promising Practice: Rental Housing Assistance
Promising Practice: Homelessness Prevention