Supportive Housing Helps Stop the Spread of HIV in Austin, Texas
History of Roosevelt Gardens
When Project Transitions opened in 1988, not only were people dying from the virus, but also the stigma and ignorance surrounding HIV transmission led many healthcare providers and workers to refuse to treat patients with HIV and AIDS. To provide a space for compassionate care, Project Transitions opened Doug’s House, a five-bed hospice care facility for people living with AIDS. The waitlist for Doug’s House continued to grow, and the need for safe housing became more evident, so Project Transitions purchased the original Roosevelt Gardens building in 1995 to open a 26-unit caregiver support facility.
As modern medicine extended the life expectancy of HIV patients, the continuum of care at Project Transitions properties evolved. Roosevelt Gardens initially served as temporary housing until residents required hospice care at Doug’s House, but today the development serves as a transitional housing program to support proper medical care and a path to independent living. Doug’s House residents can apply for residency at Roosevelt Gardens if they no longer need recuperative care. This flexibility helps keep people connected to care and stable housing that will prevent them from experiencing homelessness.
Housing as Healthcare
The redeveloped Roosevelt Gardens replaces the original 1960s-era building and nearly doubles the number of onsite units. In August 2022, the first residents moved into the building, which consists of studios and one- and two-bedroom apartments. To support the many residents exiting homelessness, each unit comes furnished with a bed, nightstand, small tables, two chairs, and a loveseat. Households at Roosevelt Gardens earn no more than 50 percent of the area median income and arrive with a variety of lived experiences that include financial and housing instability, barriers in the form of trauma or prior episodes of incarceration, and living with a disability. Most residents were people who had been living at the old development just before the expansion project, but Project Transitions also received residents through the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, a local nonprofit; Austin and Travis County’s coordinated entry system; website inquiries; and word of mouth.
Roosevelt Gardens’ amenities and services support consistent medical care and healthy habits for residents. According to Leah Baker, interim executive director of Project Transitions, community is what drives residents “to stay med compliant [and] get and stay healthy.” The ground level consists of a commercial kitchen, where volunteers prepare a nutritious continental breakfast every weekday, and a food pantry stocked with items from the Central Texas Food Bank. Other community-building activities are intended to replace unhealthy habits that encourage drug use by residents in addiction recovery. For example, a sober social club group facilitates interpersonal connections through board games and movie nights in the community room.
Prioritizing resident health is fundamental at Roosevelt Gardens, and Project Transitions provides onsite staff to help residents coordinate health care, secure permanent housing, and achieve life goals. Experienced social workers create personalized transition plans for each resident to help them attain the necessary skills and resources for independent living. Supportive housing specialists help residents with nutrition and medical compliance by asking patients if they are seeing their doctor and taking their medication as well as assisting them with making calls or arranging for transportation. Because 80 percent of their clients have psychiatric conditions, the specialists are also focused on addiction recovery and addressing mental health. Through a partnership with Vivent Health, Roosevelt Gardens has telehealth rooms for easier access to medical care and behavioral health appointments. Vivent Health delivers medicine from its pharmacy, which is located less than 2 miles from Roosevelt Gardens, and residents can take a bus to the medical center for counseling and dental appointments.
Funding for Supportive Housing
Public investment was the major funding source for the development, which cost $7.7 million. The development received more than $5 million through a general obligation bond for affordable housing, and the Texas State Affordable Housing Corporation loaned $150,000 through the Texas Housing Impact Fund, which the Texas State Housing Corporation administers to incentivize the development of affordable housing by local nonprofits. In addition to these public sources, Project Transitions raised private capital from its HIV: HOUSING IS VITAL capital campaign. In the first phase of the campaign, which launched in May 2022, Roosevelt Gardens received $1.5 million of the $3.27 million raised to date. All units receive HUD’s Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS (HOPWA) assistance to cover operations, subsidized housing specialist salaries, furniture costs, and telehealth equipment.
Housing and Getting to Zero Strategy
In 2020, the city of Austin reported that more than 300 people experiencing homelessness who were living with HIV were not taking any medication. Individuals who are experiencing homelessness also often are unable to prioritize healthy habits, such as engaging in protected sex and seeking medical treatment, that help suppress the virus and prevent its spread. Project Transitions’ provision of supportive housing is improving individual and community outcomes and is a key element of the city’s goal to achieve zero transmissions of HIV by 2030. Baker explains that in the second phase of the nonprofit’s HIV: HOUSING IS VITAL capital campaign, the total number of units will increase to 101. The new development, which will open in 2024, potentially will house one-third of the city’s medically vulnerable population and provide medical treatment that will help individuals attain undetectable levels of HIV.
Project Transitions. n.d. “Housing is Vital.” Accessed 4 January 2023; Project Transitions. n.d. “#HIV: HOUSING IS VITAL.” Accessed 4 January 2023; True Casa Consulting, LLC. 2019. “Rental Housing Development Assistance Application.” Accessed 4 January 2023; Document provided by Leah Baker, interim executive director of Project Transitions, 10 January 2023. ×
Interview with Leah Baker, interim executive director of Project Transitions, and Aranda Salazar, project coordinator at Project Transitions Salazar, 10 January 2023; Project Transitions. n.d. “Our History.” Accessed 19 January 2023. ×
Interview with Leah Baker, interim executive director of Project Transitions, and Aranda Salazar, project coordinator at Project Transitions, 10 January 2023; Project Transitions. n.d. “Our History.” Accessed 19 January 2023. ×
True Casa Consulting, LLC. 2019. “Rental Housing Development Assistance Application.” Accessed 4 January 2023; Interview with Leah Baker, interim executive director of Project Transitions, and Aranda Salazar, project coordinator at Project Transitions, 10 January 2023; Project Transitions. n.d. “Supportive Housing.” Accessed 4 January 2023. ×
Civil Economics and Housing Works Austin. 2022. “Economic Impact of the 2013 and 2018 General Obligation Bonds for Affordable Housing in Austin Through 2021.” Accessed 4 January 2023; Texas State Affordable Housing Corporation. 2022. “A Recent Tour of the Newly Rebuilt Roosevelt Gardens Apartments,” news, 30 August. Accessed 4 January 2023; Project Transitions. n.d. “#HIV: HOUSING IS VITAL.” Accessed 4 January 2023; Interview with Leah Baker and Aranda Salazar, project coordinator at Project Transitions, 10 January 2023. ×