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Congress revamps HIV housing program to benefit areas where virus is spreading

Carmen Heredia Rodriguez | Kaiser Health News | 8/10/2017, midnight
In a bipartisan push, Congress has restructured a federal housing program for HIV patients to funnel more money into areas ...
Shyronn Jones, 39, and her children, Shyloh, 5, and Shymere, 14, live in Atlanta. The federal program called Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS helps Jones afford an apartment near a park where her daughter can safely play. (Photo by Trevor Cochlin/Courtesy of the Jones family)

“I think we can’t underestimate the power that home has in improving the health in somebody with a chronic condition,” said Russell Bennett, executive director of the National AIDS Housing Coalition.

Shyronn Jones, 39, has struggled financially since she was diagnosed with HIV. She was once a homeowner in New York, but when she moved to Atlanta several years ago, the only housing she could afford was an apartment in a crime-ridden pocket of the city. She was having trouble getting medical care, her white blood cell count dipped to dangerously low levels, and her mental health deteriorated.

But then, a housing assistance organization connected Jones to HOPWA, which helped her to move into a better neighborhood with a nearby grocery store, post office and park for her daughter to play.

“I had a lot riding on HOPWA,” she said. “HOPWA just saved me.”

Reslicing the Pie

These cities are seeing the biggest drop in their share of funding:

City | Percentage:

New York City | 0.73%

Atlanta | 0.37%

Miami | 0.19%

Washington, D.C. | 0.18%

Houston | 0.16%

These places are seeing the biggest increase in their share of funding:

City | Percentage:

Los Angeles | 0.33%

Chicago | 0.16%

Texas | 0.07%

Florida | 0.07%

San Diego, Calif. | 0.07%

Seeking to soften the impact of the formula change, the law increased appropriations this year so that each jurisdiction would see at least a small rise in funding. Over time, areas with higher rates of HIV transmission, such as the South, will continue seeing increases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated 44 percent of all individuals living with HIV in the country reside in the South, even though only 37 percent of the U.S. population live in the region.

The extra $20 million allocation nationwide this year translated to double-digit percentage increases for more than 100 out of the 140 participating jurisdictions. Smaller cities such as Greenville, S.C., and Syracuse, N.Y., saw their funding jump by nearly 14 percent. Notably, some larger metropolitan hubs such as Portland, Ore., and Chicago also saw similar growth in their grants.

But efforts to funnel money into current HIV epicenters without additional funding could mean cuts for large metropolitan areas such as Atlanta and New York. To mitigate potential losses, the program’s statute stipulates that over the next five years, a grantee cannot lose more than 5 percent or gain more than 10 percent of its share of the previous year’s total HOPWA formula funds.

“We’ll see some losses in funding [for some areas] over the years,” said Rita Flegel, director of the Office of HIV/AIDS Housing. “And then money will be distributed more evenly among people living with HIV.”

Rep. David Price (D-N.C.), who was one of the co-sponsors of the bill that reformulated the funding, said the phase-in coupled with the boost in funding helped assuage fears of cutbacks among lawmakers from areas with a legacy of large numbers of HIV cases.

“People of all sorts of political persuasions supported this because this was a question of fairness,” he said. Yet, “it was very clear that we needed to increase the size of the pie to make this proposition less difficult.”