Those who provide services and advocacy for Central New Yorkers with HIV/AIDS will be watching closely this week to see if the final state budget includes funding to increase affordable housing. Governor Cuomo has proposed the expansion of a successful rental assistance program in New York City to the rest of the state.
As many as 500 HIV positive Central New Yorkers could benefit from the program in both urban and rural areas. It gives localities the option of capping income contributions toward rental costs at 30%.
Director of support services at ACR Health Jen Cook says it frees up much needed funds for other critical needs.
“By capping rental costs and also by allowing for localities to pay for up to 100% of the fair market rent, this again would help people be able to pay for things that they actual need in their life like medication and medical treatment.”
Reed Vreeland is the director of New York Community Mobilization at Housing Works, a non-profit that aims to end homelessness of people affected by HIV/AIDS through advocacy, services, and businesses that help fund their mission. Born to a mother with HIV, Vreeland too has HIV and knows first-hand about the struggles that come with it.
“It’s very hard for people with a life-threatening condition like HIV to actually stay on medication, stay in care if they don’t know where they’re gonna sleep the next night or if they’re constantly unstably housed.”
Vreeland explains there is an imbalance of housing options in Upstate versus New York City where the
assistance program seems to be working. He suggests it might be part of the reason why new diagnoses of HIV dropped in New York City by 11% in 2016. For the 57 counties outside of the city, he says, the number of new cases dropped by just 1%.
The program expansion is a budget item, but Vreeland says getting someone with HIV in stable housing actually makes it budget neutral.
“They’re not having costly emergency room and in-patient care that is caused by them being out of care and not in a stable situation, so just that projected savings alone is able to cover the cost of the housing.
For that reason, Cook from ACR Health says affordable, stable housing is key for anyone with a chronic illness.
“Housing really is healthcare. It’s a foundation of making sure that as individuals without having a shelter or a place to sleep at night, there’s really no other way we can focus on anything else.
Both Cook and Vreeland hope state lawmakers can understand why HIV housing is crucial as they negotiate a budget agreement. Vreeland extends an important question for lawmakers to keep in mind:
“If you didn’t have housing, would you be able to take care of your long-term health or not, with the type of serious and life-threatening condition like HIV?”
The expansion of housing support for people with HIV/AIDS is a portion of the End the Epidemic program to halt new infections by 2020. It's also coupled with a new Hepatitis C elimination strategy to increase access to medication, expand comprehensive programs and enhance treatment services.
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