Unaffordable Housing

Left Field by Patricia Nell Warren

Unaffordable Housing

Budget cuts are cracking the foundation of HIV/AIDS treatment

In San Francisco in 2011, a homeless man living with AIDS was found huddled dead in a doorway on Castro Street. He’d been dead for a day before anybody noticed. The San Francisco Medical Examiner’s office determined that forty-four-year-old Pedro Villamore, Jr., died of pneumonia complicated by AIDS.

Homelessness is spiking in the U.S. since the economic collapse of 2008. The National Alliance to End Homelessness says, “Thousands of people with HIV/AIDS experience homelessness on a given night.” According to a study commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, here are stark statistics: four percent of the some 3 million estimated homeless adults are HIV-positive. Four percent of 3 million is 120,000.

One distressing report from the National Minority AIDS Council connects the dots between AIDS housing and America’s high incarceration rate: “Punitive public policies restrict the eligibility of formerly incarcerated persons for public housing, income supports and other safety net programs. Stable, appropriate housing is consistently found to be the greatest unmet need of persons with HIV/AIDS reentering the community from prison and jail, and a history of incarceration has been found to double the risk of subsequent homelessness.”

HOPWA says, “The CDC estimates that over one million Americans are living with HIV and AIDS….Stable housing is the cornerstone of HIV/AIDS treatment, allowing persons with HIV/AIDS to access comprehensive healthcare and adhere to complex HIV/AIDS drug therapies.” That mantra—“stable housing is the cornerstone of treatment”—always sounds great. But at the start of 2013, a blow was aimed at treatment by a big HOPWA budget cut. On top of this, Congress insisted on imposing sequestration—automatic cuts totaling $1.2 trillion over ten years.
Recent news coverage puts a harsh spotlight on how these cuts hamper AIDS housing. In Atlanta, Jerusalem House, an organization helping with housing, will lose $1.2 million over just two years. This translates into a reduction of thirty homes. In Fort Worth, housing vouchers that were already granted are now being withdrawn.

According to the National Housing Trust Fund, there are other lethal factors. “While sequestration will reduce the amount of affordable rental housing made available by the federal government, market conditions are the cause of the majority of the existing housing shortage….Severe housing cost burden—where low-income renters pay 50% or more of their income for rent—is a problem in every state in the nation.”

Indeed the mortgage-speculation bubble that started bursting in 2008 creates a shocking disparity. That year, Reuters was already reporting that 18.6 percent of foreclosed homes were empty while 3.5 million Americans were homeless. By 2011 our government was sitting on 248,000 of those empty homes—the result of defaults on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans.

Then there are policy barriers to help. HOPWA may turn you down if you have: no rental history, past evictions, sporadic employment history, criminal history, insufficient income, poor credit history, a large family (three-plus children), or a recent history of substance abuse.
Efforts to right housing wrongs meet stiff resistance. In New York State, the advocacy group VOCAL-NY demonstrated at the Albany capitol in favor of a bill providing rental help for New Yorkers disabled by AIDS. The bill would reduce Medicaid spending, and guarantee that individuals would pay no more than thirty percent of their income for rent. But Governor Paterson, still in office at the time, vetoed the bill.

But some progress is being made in San Francisco, where Pedro Villamore died. Here, the new AIDS Housing Alliance/SF says of its goals: “We are the only source of emergency financial assistance for those of us who are still working and at risk of losing our housing….It is much better to protect the housing people already have, than to try to find replacement housing…..Our protest at City Hall over the loss of one-third of our AIDS housing in just 3 years led to the creation of $1 million in new HIV/AIDS housing funding in San Francisco’s budget.”
President Obama says he wants eighty-six percent of people with HIV/AIDS to have stable housing by 2015. But why not aim for 100 percent?

To access the HOPWA Rental Assistance Guidebook, log on to: www.onecpd.info/resources/documents/HOPWARentalAssistanceGuidebook.pdf.

Author of fiction bestsellers and provocative commentary, Patricia Nell Warren has her writings archived at www.patricianellwarren.com. Reach her by e-mail at [email protected]

Copyright © 2013 by Patricia Nell Warren. All rights reserved.