HUD threatens to cut off D.C. AIDS funding for 2010

By Debbie Cenziper
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 12, 2009

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, worried about widespread lapses in oversight of the District's AIDS program, is threatening to cut off $12.2 million in federal funding next year if the problems are not fixed.

Assistant Secretary Mercedes M. Márquez said HUD will send a letter to the city this week stipulating that no new AIDS housing money will be awarded unless the D.C. Department of Health's HIV/AIDS Administration improves its tracking of services and spending.

Márquez also wrote last week to D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), saying she was "deeply concerned" about a recent Washington Post series that found the HIV/AIDS Administration had paid more than $25 million to nonprofit groups that delivered substandard care or failed to account for their work.

Many were housing groups funded with HUD money, including one that received more than $400,000 for a promised job-training center that never opened. Márquez, head of community planning and development, said the city possibly violated more than 60 HUD requirements.

"It is absolutely unacceptable that any single person suffers as a result of the District not being able to manage taxpayer dollars," Márquez said this week. "This is where they pushed it to: No new money until you fix this."

Mafara Hobson, spokeswoman for the mayor's office, said the city will work closely with HUD to ensure continued funding.

HUD officials said this is the first time in the AIDS housing program's 18-year history that money would be withheld from a city based on poor performance.

Márquez said the agency decided to take the step, first reported Wednesday on, because the District's AIDS program has consistently been among the most troubled in the nation.

Since at least 2003, HUD's monitoring reports have repeatedly found that the city, which has the highest rate of AIDS cases in the country, has failed to keep tabs on nonprofit groups that promised to provide housing for the sick. In some cases, the District did not provide financial records and other documents from HUD monitors.

Last year, the city had to return more than $600,000 in AIDS housing money for failing to fix problems chronicled by HUD monitors in 2003 and 2006. HUD has provided training to the city and has noted improvements in client care and housing standards, but accountability lags.

This year, as HUD prepared to do its 2009 monitoring, the agency sent two letters to HIV/AIDS Administration Director Shannon L. Hader. The letters urged the city to release records and arrange for a meeting between HUD and the city's financial management team.

"They were making it almost impossible to do the monitoring. . . . It's really like pulling teeth with the District," Márquez said.

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