Community groups have welcomed the NSW Department of Housing’s decision to consult further on its controversial decision to change the current rental subsidy scheme for HIV-positive people on the Disability Support Pension (DSP).

The Special Assistance Subsidy Scheme (SASS) currently provides up to 80 percent of private rental costs for eligible clients. Under proposed changes private rental subsidies might only be available as a bridging program until an appropriate offer of public housing becomes available.

In a meeting with ACON and other groups this week the department agreed to the establishment of an advisory panel to look at the changes and come up with a clearer definition of appropriate housing before the changes were implemented.

This is a great outcome for people living with HIV/AIDS, ACON president Adrian Lovney said. There is no danger in SASS being taken away and it is clear no one will be forced into accommodation that doesn’t meet their needs.

Executive director of PLWHA (NSW) Antony Nicholas told the Star that he was pleased with the outcome of the meetings.

The Housing department looks quite keen to work closely with the sector in making sure that the policy is developed in an equitable and fair fashion, said Nicholas.

But Lovney stressed that there were still ongoing concerns about the integration of people with HIV into public housing.

We often find that people in public housing with HIV are kind of doubly disadvantaged, he said. When there’s a group of people who are all kind of socially disadvantaged for one reason or other, then what often happens is that people will find an excuse to pick on the weakest, and in public housing situations that is often the case.

It’s often the people who are chronically ill or who are gay or who are HIV-positive or are seen as having some other kind of disadvantage, it’s survival of the fittest, it’s kind of Darwinian in a sense. I guess they’re our real concerns about public housing. Our experience is that many people with HIV suffer needlessly.

However, Lovney was confident that the department would take the experiences of people with HIV in public housing seriously.

We’re pleased that the department is committed to making sure that where clients are threatened by other tenants, or feel otherwise unsafe, that they’ll be transferred within a defined time period -¦ or they’ll be offered SASS again, so they’ll be able to go out and find private rental, said Lovney.

The advisory panel will work in consultation with the department over the next six to 12 months.

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