In 2022, Housing Is A Human Right and its sister organization, Healthy Housing Foundation, reached a new milestone: five years of serving tenants and the unhoused by urgently addressing the housing affordability and homelessness crises. In that time, HHR has mounted major battles to pass rent control and HHF has created more than 1,400 units of low-income and homeless housing. Both organizations will continue to fight for what’s right for as long as necessary.
In 2017, Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the world’s largest HIV/AIDS medical-care nonprofit, established a housing provider division, Healthy Housing Foundation, and a housing advocacy division, Housing Is A Human Right. AHF was returning to its roots: in 1987, the nonprofit was founded as a housing and medical-care provider for terminally ill AIDS patients.
Leading up to 2017, AHF saw that its clients in Los Angeles and San Francisco were increasingly impacted by gentrification and the housing affordability crisis, which was fueling homelessness. Put simply, patients struggled to maintain good health without stable, affordable housing. For AHF, housing was a public health issue that needed an urgent response.
Through Healthy Housing Foundation, AHF uses an adaptive reuse model, buying hotels and motels in the Los Angeles area, quickly renovating them, and turning the hotels and motels into low-income and homeless housing. It’s been a massive success: in the L.A. area, HHF has renovated 13 buildings and created more than 1,400 units of low-income and homeless housing in only five years at the affordable cost of $102,000 per unit. Not only was HHF quickly housing people, but it was also offering a timely, cost-effective model that municipalities and organizations could replicate.
In Los Angeles, for example, City Controller Ron Galperin found that city-funded homeless housing projects were taking between three to six years to complete – HHF’s projects took months. Galperin also found that the average cost per unit was nearly $600,000 – HHF’s cost per unit was a fraction of that.
Timeliness and cost are important. Government funding for low-income and homeless housing is limited, and municipalities such as L.A. must keep costs down in order to build as many housing units as possible. And with more than 7,300 homeless residents dying on the streets in the L.A. area since 2014, low-income and homeless housing must be built quickly to save lives. HHF’s adaptive reuse model has shown that this can be done.
HHF will continue to build, with numerous housing projects in the pipeline that include sites not only in California, but also Florida and New York, where AHF operates HIV/AIDS clinics.
As part of its longtime model to provide services backed up by strong advocacy, AHF established Housing Is A Human Right to advocate for community-based solutions to address the housing affordability and homelessness crises. Specifically, HHR advocates for the “3 Ps”: protect tenants through strong renter protections; preserve existing affordable housing, not demolish it; and produce new affordable housing through adaptive reuse and pre-fab modular housing.
To that end, HHR has been at the center of numerous housing justice battles in California, including fighting corporate landlords and politicians who take campaign contributions from the real estate industry and pushing back against pro-gentrification, trickle-down housing solutions pushed by Big Real Estate, YIMBYs, and certain politicians. HHR was victorious in helping to stop California bills SB 827 and SB 50, which Big Real Estate and YIMBYs backed, but would have fueled gentrification in working-class neighborhoods, especially communities of color.
HHR and AHF also fought to overturn statewide rent control restrictions in California through Proposition 10, in 2018, and Proposition 21, in 2020. (Above photo: Housing Is A Human Right rally in L.A. for Prop 10.) HHR and AHF sponsored both ballot measures, leading a broad coalition of housing justice groups, social justice organizations, and labor unions. Big Real Estate, though, spent a whopping $175.4 million to successfully kill the initiatives – many of the top contributors to the opposition campaign were among the largest corporate landlords in the U.S.
But HHR continues to be a key player in the national rent control movement, providing major funding to rent-control campaigns in the L.A. area and Minnesota, where two rent control initiatives were passed in St. Paul and Minneapolis in 2021. And HHR and AHF financially supported a successful rent-control initiative in Pasadena, California, which voters approved in November 2022.
HHR also pushes for state and local legislation to beef up tenant protections and to create more funding for low-income and homeless housing, and was an active player in successfully lobbying for stronger renter rights during the COVID-19 pandemic. And HHR continually advocates for more housing for the homeless and to end the criminalization of unhoused residents, which does not address the root causes of homelessness.
In addition, Housing Is A Human Right is the California field office of the National Coalition for the Homeless, and HHR provides award-winning advocacy journalism – its special report on the gentrification crisis in L.A. won the “Best Activism Journalism” award from the Los Angeles Press Club.
It’s been a busy five years for AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Healthy Housing Foundation, and Housing Is A Human Right, but lives hang in the balance. We will always keep fighting to protect and serve the unhoused and poor and middle- and working-class tenants, all of whom desperately need stable, affordable housing.