A group of HIV-positive people receiving rent subsidies from the Department of Housing have decided to go it alone to fight plans to move them into public housing.

The members are recipients of the Special Assistance Subsidy Scheme (SAS/S), which pays up to 80 percent of private rental costs, to allow HIV-positive people to remain in their homes and close to medical and social services.

Under the changes, due to start early December, many SAS/S recipients would be moved into stock Department of Housing accommodation.

Calling themselves SASSters, the members have broken away from ACON and other traditional HIV lobby groups, citing dissatisfaction with the way the groups have handled the proposed changes to the subsidised rent scheme.

SASSter spokesperson Andrew T said many recipients were scared they would be forced out of their homes within gay communities and moved to areas where they could face homophobia or HIV discrimination.

The group have set up a website -“ www.angelfire.com /indie/sassters -“ with information on who to contact to speak out against the proposal. All members are told to use only their first names in case of retribution from the Depart-ment of Housing.

The department has started advertising for an assistant project officer to interview and assess SAS/S recipients in preparation for the changes.

A spokesperson said the early advertising did not mean the project would start before December.

We don’t know when it’s going to start, he said.

ACON president Adrian Lovney said while he had not had any direct contact with the SASSter group, he welcomed the idea of affected SAS/S recipients getting involved in the discussions.

It’s a good contribution to make. We don’t agree with some of the comments they make [but] the more people involved the merrier, he said.

Lovney said ACON would support fine tuning of the SAS/S program -“ it meant the scheme would survive for those most in need.

There are areas where we agree with the department, and there are areas where we don’t, he said.

Some of the affected people don’t want to live in private rental, and there are some real estate agents who won’t rent to SAS/S clients. But for some people, for whatever reason, public housing is not going to be an option. And if someone’s tried it once and it doesn’t work, then we don’t think it’s reasonable for them to keep trying and trying.

ACON will meet with the Department of Housing next week to discuss the situation.

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