Shared from the 12/17/2018 Albany Times Union eEdition

Viewpoint

Fight AIDS with statewide housing assistance

New York state has made unprecedented progress toward the goal of ending HIV as an epidemic statewide by 2020, an effort Gov. Andrew Cuomo committed to in 2014 with his three-point “Ending the Epidemic” (EtE) plan. However, we are gravely concerned that current data indicate the state will achieve that goal only in New York City, not statewide.

One key reason for this is that in New York City, every low-income person living with HIV is guaranteed safe, secure housing through enhanced rental assistance and dedicated supportive housing initiatives. This is not the case in any upstate or Long Island locality due to state law, policy, and funding, leading to dire personal and public health consequences that should worry us all. The lifetime cost of treating just one person with HIV can top $450,000 — costs that can be prevented if we act now.

Research shows that safe, stable housing is essential to support effective HIV medical treatment that sustains optimal health for people with HIV and makes it impossible to transmit HIV to others. New York has had a rental assistance scheme for people with AIDS since the 1980s, but regulations cap total rent at $480 per month for a single individual. New York City has long approved waivers to the $480 limit to match rising rents. Implementing EtE recommendations, Cuomo expanded program eligibility to include all HIV-positive persons and capped disabled New York City tenants’ share of rent at 30 percent of fixed income.

Beyond the city, however, no other locality provides fair market-rate HIV rental assistance or the 30 percent rent cap. The 2016 state budget gave upstate localities the option to implement these policies, but no new funding. Not surprisingly, no locality opted in, nor do most have mechanisms in HIV housing services to protect confidentiality.

We urge Cuomo and the Legislature to eliminate this glaring disparity with the funding needed to replicate the elements of the New York City program statewide. This is an opportunity to show that upstate residents with HIV are treated fairly, with the same life-saving access to affordable housing as those in New York City. Let us end the AIDS epidemic for all New Yorkers, not just those in New York City.

Perry James Junjulas is executive director of the Albany Damien Center. Charles King is CEO of Housing Works.

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