This month, VOCAL-NY and the Urban Justice Center’s Community Development Project collaboratively published “ More Than a Home: How Affordable Housing for New Yorkers Living with HIV/AIDS will Prevent Homelessness, Improve Health and Reduce Costs.” The report evaluates the HIV/AIDS rental assistance program administered by the HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA.) Of the several rental assistance programs in New York, HASA is the only one that does not require standard affordable housing protections. Unlike other rental-assistance programs, such as Sec. 8, HASA does not provide a 30% rent cap, forcing their clients to pay upwards of 70% of their income on housing. Such a rent burden not only jeopardizes their ability to keep their homes, but it also endangers their health.
To assess the impact of not having a rent-cap, researchers collected 82 surveys from and conducted 3 focus groups comprised of homeless or are unstably housed people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA). The results illustrated that the absence of a rent cap led to increased homelessness as well as health deterioration.
Here are some of them:
- More than half of the respondents (56%) were behind on their rent when they lost their apartment. A majority (60%) of the respondents had fallen into arrears of more than $1,000.
- About two-thirds (65%) of respondents reported having to choose between paying rent and other basic necessities.
- About half of the respondents were not able to afford food (46%) or transportation (48%).
- One in three (34%) respondents said they had trouble paying for healthcare expenses such as co-pays for medical appointments or prescription drugs that were not covered by health insurance.
- Over two-thirds of survey respondents (67%) said that it has been harder to take care of their health since losing their apartment and entering the emergency shelter system, with six in ten reporting that their health has deteriorated during this time.
- More than half of respondents (54%) said it has been harder to keep medical appointments since becoming homeless, and slightly less than half (47%) said it had become harder to take their medication.
- More than half (52%) had visited the emergency room and 38% had actually been admitted to hospitals since becoming homeless and entering the emergency housing system.
Without a rent cap, HASA clients cannot afford to pay their rent as well as cover their daily expenses — especially in city as expensive as New York. To improve this program and provide better protections for PLWHA, HASA clients are asking that Governor Cuomo and the state legislature to institute a 30 percent rent cap. Such regulations would make housing more affordable, which would lessen the likelihood of evictions as well as emergency shelter occupants. In doing so, the health of PLWHA would improve, and the cost of emergency room and hospital visits to the state would shrink. We, at UHAB, stand with HASA clients in demanding that the state legislature recognize that “housing is healthcare” implement a 30 percent rent cap!