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Having a safe and affordable place to live is important to everyone's quality of life. When you are living with HIV (HIV+), it is also an important part of taking care of your overall health. Having stable housing, clean water, bathrooms, refrigeration, and food makes it much easier to take your HIV drugs and stay healthy.
Finding affordable housing can sometimes be difficult. A good place to begin is a housing assistance program or AIDS service organization (ASO) in your area. The Housing Opportunities for Persons Living with AIDS (HOPWA) is a housing resource for HIV+ people and has programs in many US cities. To see if there is a HOPWA program in your area, visit the HOPWA program website.
Once you find a housing program or ASO, call and ask to speak with the "housing search advocate" or "someone to help me look for housing." The housing advocate can explain the different options available to you and help you with applications.
Different housing programs help people in different situations. For example, some only help single people and some help only families. Ask your housing advocate what the eligibility requirements are for the programs in your area. Eligibility requirements are those factors that enable a person to be considered for entry into housing programs. If you do not qualify for the program by meeting its eligibility requirements, you will not be considered for the program. It is important to know that, even if you meet all of a program's eligibility requirements, you may not be accepted into the program (e.g., they may not have space).
Other examples of eligibility requirements include:
- Income level
- HIV status and/or the stage of your illness
- Other health problems, disabilities, mental illness, or substance abuse problems
- Criminal record
What you pay in rent depends on what type of housing you find. If you get housing through a government program, the program will provide some kind of help with rent. Generally you will pay about one third of your household income towards rent and utilities and the program will pay the rest.
Sometimes people are discriminated against when they are looking for housing because of things like race, sexual orientation, physical disability (including HIV), or source of income. If you think this is the case, let your housing advocate know and ask about assistance from a legal advocate.
Unless you are applying for housing specifically for HIV+ people, you are not required to disclose your HIV status to the housing agency. You may need a letter from a public agency or your health care provider stating you have a disability, but it does not need to state your HIV diagnosis.
Different housing options are available in different places. Check to see what is available in your community.
- Provided by shelters, churches, community groups, YMCAs, YWCAs
- Allows you to stay for 30 to 90 days
- May be able to find you more permanent housing
- Sometimes does not allow you to stay in the facility during the day
- Housing you can stay in for a short period of time (up to three years), so it is important to have a plan in place for moving on to a more permanent residence
- These programs can help you find permanent housing while you are living there
- Sometimes you have to share an apartment or share a kitchen and bathroom
- Some programs are just for HIV+ people and/or people in recovery from drug or alcohol abuse
HIV Residential Program
- Permanent housing for HIV+ people
- You can stay there as long as you pay your rent and follow the rules
- Some programs provide you with your own apartment
- Some programs provide you with your own bedroom and you have to share a bathroom and a kitchen
- A residential program is suitable if you are looking for a lot of support and help
HIV Scattered-Site Housing
HIV-specific housing programs called "scattered-site housing" are agencies that refer you to a building or help you find an apartment in the community.
- A social service agency rents the apartment to you or you may have the lease in your name
- Sometimes can assist with telephone, heating, electric and moving costs
- May provide HIV/AIDS case management services
- You can stay in your apartment as long as you pay the rent and follow the program rules
Public Housing Authorities
Public housing authorities offer several different housing assistance programs for low-income people and persons living with disabilities (including HIV). Not every community has a housing authority; however, many larger cities do.
Housing authorities provide multiple types of assistance:
- Housing in buildings they own - "public housing"
- Rental assistance subsidies (help paying rent) - subsidies are not attached to a particular apartment or building. You need to find an apartment in the community and the subsidy helps to pay the rent and utilities.
- Project-based - units are set aside in buildings
Eligibility for these programs is based on your family's household size and income, and in some cases, your current living status (if homeless) and age (for senior housing). If social security is your only source of income, you are probably eligible.
Some agencies have special housing available for the elderly and disabled. If you are disabled, let the housing authority know when you apply. However, you do not have to let them know what your specific disability is (i.e., you do not have to tell them you are living with HIV).
There may be more than one housing authority in the area where you want to live, especially if you are looking in a large city. You will need to contact each housing authority to find out where they take applications, what is available, and how long you may be on the waiting list. In many cases, you will be on the waiting list for months or even years, so apply as soon as possible. Fill out applications at as many authorities as you can, even places that might not be your first choice.
You can find housing authority contact information for your state by going to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) website.
Private Rental Market
You can try to find an apartment through the newspapers, online listings (e.g., Craigslist), or a realtor. If you do this you will have to pay full rent. However, you may be able to find a program that will assist you with the rent through a subsidy (financial assistance). Ask your housing advocate about this option.
If you rent an apartment and get a subsidy, you will pay a portion of your household income towards rent and utilities. The housing agency or program will pay the rest directly to the landlord. You do not need to tell your landlord why you are receiving a subsidy—that information is confidential.
Homelessness is a problem that affects many people in the US, including many HIV+ people. Treating your HIV and taking care of your overall health can be difficult if you are homeless.
If you are homeless there are programs that provide a range of services, including shelter, food, counseling, and jobs-skills training. For help and resource information contact a local homeless assistance agency or go to the HUD website or the National Coalition for the Homeless website. You may also be able to get some assistance from your local branch of The Salvation Army or the United Way help line (or dial 2-1-1).
If you fear you could become homeless, it may be possible to find emergency assistance programs in your area that can help pay rent or bills. Some programs are run by the state, county, or local division of housing assistance, or by the division of social/human services. Try looking in the government listings in your phone book for these agencies. Churches and non-profit organizations also offer emergency help.
Homeowners with problems that could result in losing their homes can contact a HUD-approved, housing-counseling agency for advice on defaults, foreclosures, and credit issues. Homeowners can contact the HUD website or call 888-995-HOPE (4673).
Finding the right housing for women with HIV can have its own set of challenges. Many HIV+ women do not earn enough money to afford a decent place to live because they are taking care of children, spouses, and other family members. Women may find that they qualify for housing, while their loved ones – especially male partners and teenage sons – do not.
It can be helpful to look beyond HIV-related housing for women and families. There may be housing and shelter options available for battered women, for pregnant women, for women coming out of jail, and for women needing substance abuse treatment. Talk to your case manager or housing advocate about the people you are caring for and your housing needs in order to find the best program for you.
Some information in this article is adapted from the AIDS Housing Corporation booklet "How to Get a Place Called Home" at http://www.health.state.ny.us/diseases/aids/docs/doh-9547.pdf.