Skip to main content

An Interview with Sharee: Housing

An Interview with Sharee: Housing

by Sofia Moletteri

Nov. 5, 2019

Affordable housing is often a topic of interest within the confines of the Planning Council. The reason? There is forever a need for more affordable housing, especially since the homeless population has almost doubled “over the last five years amid the city’s opioid crisis.” Yet, the terms used and differences between housing programs can be confusing.

Stable housing for PLWH (people living with HIV) has proven to be an important factor for intact immunity and viral load suppression. Thus, it is important to clear up muddy details around affordable housing for PLWH.

Thankfully, Sharee Heaven, Senior Contract Analyst at the DHCD (Division of Housing and Community Development) and Planning Council Co-Chair, agreed to answer some significant and common questions around housing.

Many of the questions include mention of the HOPWA (Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS) program under HUD (United States Department of Housing and Urban Development) as well as the RWHAP (Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program) under HRSA (Health Resources and Services Administration).

1.) Could you give a brief description of HOPWA and how it operates within the Philadelphia EMA (slots, eligibility, what exactly it pays for, etc.)?

Currently the City of Philadelphia HOPWA Program is closed (not accepting new applicants) unless the participant is homeless.

If the HOPWA eligible person is homeless, the household will complete an application with their case manager/support service staff/hospital social worker. There is a form from the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Homeless Services (OHS) that determines a participants’ vulnerability score based on several questions. If a slot is available, the Office of Homeless Services will send information to a HOPWA Provider. The Provider will attempt to contact the client and case-manager to schedule an intake appointment.

To receive HOPWA assistance, you must meet two basic program requirements:

  • Applicants must have either CDC-defined AIDS, meet the Social Security Administration requirements for disability due to HIV, or have a documented case of oropharyngeal candidiasis, oral hairy leukoplakia, or herpes zoster within the last six months.
  • The households may have gross incomes up to 60% of median income for the area being served, but in some cases, incomes may go as high as 80% if there are other issues that may place a person or family at risk for homelessness. Incomes of participating households must be verified before assistance is provided and re-examined annually thereafter. Income limits are established by household size and revised annually by HUD.

A HOPWA client is a low-income person with HIV/AIDS who qualifies for and receives HOPWA-funded assistance.


Supportive Services: Assistance for case management. Supportive Services may be provided in conjunction with HOPWA housing assistance or as a standalone service (Supportive Services Only).

Short-Term Rent, Mortgage, and Utility Assistance (STRMU): A housing subsidy for mortgage payments to prevent homelessness of the mortgagor of a dwelling. This program helps with a maximum of 21 weeks (147 days) worth of assistance in any 52-week period. These payments are for eligible individuals and their household beneficiaries already in housing and are at risk of becoming homeless. Individuals receiving Tenant-Based Rental Assistance are NOT eligible for STRMU/DEFA. This is considered “double-dipping.” Double-dipping in any way will result in termination from the HOPWA program.

Permanent Housing Placement: Includes security deposit and first month rent equaling no more than 2 months of monthly rent. (Ryan White funds do not cover security deposits.) To assist with security deposits, the Housing Case Manager will take steps to try and guarantee the landlord will return the deposit to the City of Philadelphia in the event the client moves.

Security deposits paid by the HOPWA program will be returned to HOPWA. If a security deposit is returned by a landlord, this amount will be deposited into the HOPWA Providers Program Income fund and will be expensed within 30 days and used for the very next HOPWA service.

Rental Assistance: There are several types of HOPWA Rental Assistance that can be offered. There is Tenant-Based Rental Assistance (TBRA), Project-Based Rental Assistance (PBRA), and Master Leasing through Scattered Site of Facility Based. This policy/manual primarily focuses on Tenant-Based Rental Assistance.

TBRA provides rental assistance to eligible clients while they are on waiting lists for other affordable housing options/subsidies. TBRA is used as assistance until another alternative becomes available. When assistance becomes available elsewhere, the City of Philadelphia’s HOPWA Program cannot assist with additional funds for housing- related needs.

2.) Could you explain a bit about the coordination between HOPWA and RWHAP?

I think there has always been some sort of indirect coordination between HOPWA and RWHAP. When the City’s AIDS Activities Coordinating Office (AACO) oversaw HOPWA applications and referrals, they always connected with what was known as the Office of Housing and Community Development (OHCD), which is the HOPWA formula grantee.

The housing shortage has always been an issue in our city for homeless individuals including people living with HIV/AIDS and other populations. OHCD, now known as DHCD, has staff on the HIV Integrated Planning Council (HIPC) and members of the HIPC are part of DHCD’s HIV Housing Advisory Committee.

When our city moved to the Coordinated Entry System, HOPWA applications and referrals were transferred from the AACO to the Office of Homeless Services (OHS) so that consumers of every population were able to have a “one-stop shop” experience for homeless and special needs housing services.

3.) Regarding RWHAP, what is the difference between EFA for housing assistance and the Housing Assistance service category?

Emergency Financial Assistance provides limited one-time or short-term payments to assist clients with an emergent need for paying for essential utilities, housing (back rent), food (including groceries, and food vouchers), transportation, and medication. Emergency financial assistance can be paid directly to an agency, utility company or through a voucher program.

The Housing Assistance Service Category covers Housing services which provide limited short-term assistance to support emergency, temporary, or transitional housing to enable a client or family to gain or maintain outpatient/ambulatory health services and treatment. Housing related referral services include assessment, search, placement, advocacy, and fees associated with these services. Housing services can include housing that provides some type of medical or supportive services (such as residential substance use disorder services or mental health services, residential foster care, or assisted living residential services).

4.) What is the difference between Permanent Supportive Housing and Transitional Housing?

The DHCD works closely with the OHS, so this information was taken directly from their website.

Permanent Supportive Housing is long-term (not time-limited), safe and decent living arrangements linked to supportive services for homeless and disabled individuals and families including people living with HIV/AIDS. This housing gives people experiencing homelessness a chance to live independently.

Transitional Housing provides supportive housing to enable homeless individuals and families to move to permanent housing. It is time-limited for up to 24 months. Those residing in transitional housing receive supportive services.

Sharee mentioned:

“In addition, there are meetings for persons affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic to attend. People can receive information at the Positive Sub-committee of the HIPC. They can also come to the HIV Advisory Committee meetings held every third Tuesday bi-monthly at DHCD (1234 Market Street, 17th floor) at 2pm in the boardroom.” The final meeting in 2019 will be held on Tuesday November 19, 2019.

Return to blog