Housing (photo: Edwin J. Torres/NYC Mayoral Photography Office)
If you haven't learned how hard it is to find housing in New York these days, I envy you. Whether it’s a one bedroom apartment or a house with room for three kids and a dog, everyone can feel the strain of jacked-up prices and limited options. The difference is, if you’re living in a place upstate like I am in Rochester, the supply is even more limited. And that’s before you factor in that I’ve been living with HIV for more than 20 years.
It’s easy to see the signs of a housing crisis right now, but people living with HIV have faced housing insecurity for decades. Unlike those living in New York City with the HIV/AIDS Service Administration (HASA), once you cross city limits, support is almost nonexistent. If New York State wants to address the whole of this current housing crisis, our policy-makers must provide the same public assistance for people living with HIV/AIDS outside New York City.
Since being diagnosed with HIV in 2000, there are few things in my life the virus hasn’t affected. I kept it a secret from my daughters and other family members, for fear of what they would think. When I was incarcerated in 2014, people referred to it as “The Monster,” and if anyone knew I had it, I would be shunned. And when I was at risk of being evicted by my landlord during the pandemic, I faced risking my life by entering a shelter.
Housing is healthcare, no matter what condition you’re living with. And for those living with HIV, it’s the difference between life and death. It’s not the virus itself that could kill us – it’s the illnesses that we can’t fight off that put us at risk. And the one sure way to come in contact with those deadly risks is not having stable housing.
Housing is so much more than having a roof over your head when you live with HIV. Housing means having a fridge to store your medication in cold temperatures so it’s safe to take. Housing means having a place to store the belongings that keep you alive, instead of moving them from shelter to shelter. Housing means having a bathroom and kitchen to take responsibility over your own hygiene and nutrition. But people living with HIV outside New York City face the most obstacles to getting permanent housing.
While the intersection between housing and healthcare is not new for people living with HIV, our state does have a renewed opportunity to do something about it. On Wednesday, October 26, the Assembly Committee on Social Services will have a hearing in New York City to discuss public assistance for the coming year, while we’re still reeling from the pandemic.
While it’s ironic that the hearing is being held in the one place in our state where people with HIV have the most support, that's even more reason for us to make our case. While I can’t be there in person, I will join other members of VOCAL-NY’s Positive Leaders Union in testifying that lawmakers carve out funding in the state budget to house people living with HIV outside the five boroughs. Whether it’s solely through the budget process, or budget funding accompanied by legislation, the importance of housing for people living with HIV can no longer be overlooked.
With enough funding, we won’t have to rob Peter to pay Paul to provide this support. Making sure people living with HIV have stable housing to keep them alive does not mean the rest of New Yorkers shouldn’t get housing too. We cannot operate from a mentality of scarcity. With budget funding for public assistance, in addition to Good Cause legislation and an improved voucher program, we can help more New Yorkers than ever before, in a time when we need it most.
This is not a fight between people looking to get housed — this is a fight against greedy, discriminatory landlords and the lawmakers that allow it to continue. People with HIV living anywhere outside of New York City have been left out in the cold for too long, figuratively and literally. We need to bring our most vulnerable communities up to a level playing field when our housing market is as competitive as it is right now.
Stable, permanent housing has always been a requirement for all people living with HIV, no matter their zip code. It’s time New York State made it a reality.
Tracie Adams is a HIV+ leader with VOCAL-NY and lives in Rochester, New York. On Twitter @VOCALNewYork.