Ending the Housing Crisis in New Orleans for People Living with HIV
Katrina was just an ‘explosion of misery’ and the city never really rebounded
“[The CHANGE Coalition model] is relevant anywhere. But it’s particularly relevant in the South, where the challenges are just so much greater in terms of the level of poverty, the amount of community resources that are available, and the growing prevalence of HIV.”
—Crystal Pope, Senior Technical Assistance Manager, Collaborative Solutions Inc.
With its Southern REACH grant, Collaborative Solutions Inc. (CSI) is improving the lives of people living with HIV in New Orleans, Louisiana. It does this by providing support for a locally based advocacy group. The Coalition of HIV/AIDS Nonprofits and Governmental Entities (CHANGE) is a formal alliance of AIDS service organizations, government agencies, and people living with HIV. CHANGE is working diligently to improve housing options, as well as access to medical care and support services, for residents living with HIV in the greater New Orleans metropolitan area.
Southern REACH: Affordable Housing is Healthcare
Research shows that a lack of affordable housing leads to poorer health outcomes for people living with HIV. And unfortunately, three-quarters of the nearly 7,000 individuals living with HIV in greater New Orleans experience one or more indicators of housing instability.
“When you’re stably housed, you have the emotional and mental space and time to focus on your health. You’re not focused on how you’re going to eat and where you’re going to sleep,” explains Alice Reiner, housing director for the NO/AIDS Task Force and co-chair of the CHANGE Coalition.
“The psychological impact of homelessness also is really profound,” she adds. “Many people become very depressed or turn to substance abuse, which means they’re not focused on being healthy … From a public health perspective, [investing in housing] really is one of the best, most effective, and cheapest structural interventions.”
From a public health perspective, [investing in housing] really is one of the best, most effective, and cheapest structural interventions.
Providing Ongoing Housing Assistance
CSI started working in New Orleans right after Hurricane Katrina hit in August of 2005. With so many people displaced from their homes and falling out of care, “it was an unbelievable explosion of misery,” explains Crystal Pope, CSI’s senior technical assistance manager.
What’s more, the city’s housing market never really rebounded — the number of available units is still low, rents are 30% to 40% higher than before, and average income for people living with HIV has fallen dramatically. “So the group that we brought together early on to provide relief has developed over the years into the organization we call the CHANGE Coalition,” Pope says.
What began as a small group of people meeting occasionally on their own has evolved into a structured and results-oriented organization. Coalition members meet regularly to identify policy opportunities and plan advocacy strategies; and CSI provides comprehensive data-driven evidence on housing needs to support their legislative and public awareness campaigns.
Over the years, these advocacy activities have garnered some impressive results. For example, CHANGE worked closely with the city to develop New Orleans’ five-year plan outlining spending priorities for federal housing assistance programs (as required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development).
As a result, CHANGE convinced the city to propose using some of its Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) funding stream for ongoing rental subsidies, instead of only short-term assistance. To date, 90 households have benefited from this reform.
CHANGE also successfully advocated for reserving portions of two other HUD assistance programs (Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers and HOME funding) for people living with HIV. To date, 132 households have benefited from these reforms.
Legislative and social change successes keep coming. Two recent examples include:
- Garnering an official HIV/AIDS proclamation. CHANGE convinced the city to issue a formal proclamation, as part of the December 2014 World AIDS Day, on the importance of HIV screening and care. “It was a huge victory to have City Council members talking about the need for comprehensive sex education and for people to be tested,” Reiner says.
- Offering leadership training. To increase the number of people living with HIV who participate on community-based planning councils and consumer advisory boards, CHANGE organized a training session in February 2014. The curriculum covered basics such as procedures for running formal committee meetings, confidentiality practices, and conflict resolution.
The idea behind trainings like this is for people living with HIV to make their voices heard about decisions that have a direct impact on their lives. Plus, it puts a personal face on the negative health impact the housing crisis has — making advocacy efforts even more powerful and persuasive.
Collaborative Solutions was a Southern REACH grantee from 2013 – 2016.