(Albany, NY) – Today the End AIDS NY Community Coalition, featuring the Albany Damien Center, Trillium Health, SAGE, Housing Works, and VOCAL-NY hosted a rally and press conference on the Million Dollar Staircase in Albany to ensure that the FY24 Budget provides equitable access to lifesaving HIV housing assistance across New York State. Elected officials Senators Brad Hoylman-Sigal and Pete Harckham, and Assembly Member Harry B. Bronson joined the event to demonstrate their leadership and support.
Advocates collectively called on Governor Hochul and the Legislature to ensure this year's budget provides equal access to lifesaving housing assistance for all low-income New Yorkers with HIV experiencing homelessness or housing instability.
Since 2016, a longstanding New York State HIV rental assistance program has been available to all income-eligible people with HIV who live in New York City, but as many as 2,500 people with HIV in the rest of the state remain homeless or unstably housed because the NYS budget language that governs the program fails to provide for fair and equitable access.
A large body of research evidence shows that safe, stable housing is essential for to sustain optimal health for people with HIV and to prevent transmission of the virus.
Today’s event featured HIV/AIDS service organizations and advocates from across the state, and legislative champions, who gathered to declare that it is time to finally provide equal access to housing assistance regardless of where you live in NYS. Speakers included people who have been directly affected by this failure of New York State law and policy.
Providing housing to all New Yorkers living with HIV will save both lives and money. Safe and stable housing not only supports effective antiretroviral treatment, but also generates Medicaid savings from avoided crisis care and prevented infections that more than offset housing costs.
NY State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal said: "For low-income New Yorkers with HIV/AIDS outside of NYC, rental assistance currently requires them to pay up to 70 percent of their disability income toward rent and leaves them with less than $20 a day for all other expenses, a situation that forces many to choose between paying their rent and having money for food, transportation, and drug co-pays. Every other federal and state low-income rental assistance program –– including Section 8 and NYCHA housing –– has a 30 percent cap. We need this 30 percent rent cap statewide to help all low-income New Yorkers with HIV/AIDS stay healthy."
NY Assembly Member Harry Bronson said: “Every New Yorker living with HIV, who is experiencing homelessness or housing instability should have equal access to the safe, stable housing that is a key determinant of effective HIV health outcomes, and is necessary to reduce ongoing transmission of HIV; critical to address the stark and persistent HIV health inequities that prevent us from ending our HIV epidemic in every community. It is about time that no matter the county a person with HIV/AIDs lives in, they have access to stable housing. Rest of State housing care is a huge achievement and one I have been fighting to secure for many years.”
Perry Junjulas, Executive Director of the Albany Damien Center said: “The language for HIV rental assistance outside New York City has been in the State Budget for the past four years, yet due to technical issues, not one person outside of NYC has been housed. We recognize that the majority of very low-income persons outside of NYC who need this assistance are from communities of color, making this a critical health equity issue. As a person with AIDS serving the upstate NY region, I also find it sadly discriminatory that we offer housing to people with HIV in one area of NYS and not in another. Fortunately, it isn’t too late to fix this.”
Mary Beth Walker, Senior Director of Marketing, Communications, and Government Relations of Trillium Health said: “Trillium Health is a community health center in Rochester, NY. We serve everyone regardless of their ability to pay – including people who are living with HIV and experiencing homelessness. We’ve seen first-hand how housing can impact an individual’s overall health and well-being. People who have stable housing have higher rates of viral suppression; and when HIV is undetectable, it’s untransmissible. We are urging the governor and the legislature to expand housing for people living with HIV to the rest of New York State – not just people living in New York City.”
MJ Okma, Senior Manager for Advocacy and Government Relations at SAGE said: “Aging with HIV presents new and unique challenges for people affected by the epidemic. New York's budget must contend with the reality that 73% of New Yorkers living with HIV will be over 50 by 2030. Equitable access to lifesaving HIV housing assistance across New York State is an essential reform needed to support elders living with HIV. This assistance has been proven to improve retention in HIV care, viral suppression, and overall health. We must make the necessary investments to ensure all New Yorkers aging with HIV and long-term survivors have access to the supports they need to age in place, including statewide access to housing assistance.”
Mary Robinson, Operations Assistant at Housing Works and Long Island native said: “I tested positive for the virus in March of 1986 when I was living with my family in Long Island. I had no help when it came to housing, and had to chose between homelessness or leaving my family behind to access HASA in NYC. Not everyone has the opportunity to leave like me, and no one should have to make that choice.”
The End AIDS NY Community Coalition is a group of over 90 health care centers, hospitals, and community-based organizations across the State that are fully committed to realizing the goals of our historic State Blueprint for Ending the Epidemic (EtE) for all New Yorkers.