Housing Policy Specialist
As the Director of Policy and Advocacy for the National AIDS Housing Coalition (NAHC), Lauren Banks Killelea is keeping a watchful eye on policies and budgets where HIV and Housing intersect, specifically in the HOPWA program ( Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS), the only Federal program dedicated to the housing needs of people living with HIV/AIDS.
Under HOPWA, HUD makes grants to local communities, states and nonprofit organizations to benefit low-income persons living with HIV/AIDS and their families.
But it takes more than passive review from Alexandria, Virginia, where she resides. Staying within Congress’ sightline means persistent lobbying in Washington D.C. and “a lot of footwork on The Hill,” Killelea laughs.
Meeting with Congressional staffers about their particular state means explaining “the science of HIV”, she recounts, and delineating how housing is a form of treatment…that having an address of their own increases viral suppression by 20%, which results in an undetectable and untransmittable disease. “How can you argue with that as prevention?”
It’s that kind of dancing that garnered $410,000,000, as requested, last October for the 2020 budget and it will take as much skillful maneuvering to attain the $430,000,000 for 2021 from the Department of Transportation and HUD. Appropriation requests are being submitted now for domestic discretionary programs.
The road is long, from the House’s proposed budget, to the Senate, where “we ideally get a spending package” but where votes can also stall and even result in a government shutdown when the impasse becomes too fierce.
“It is a delicate straddle,” Killelea notes. “It’s often a case of ‘We’ll give you X if you give us Y’. She indicates how even this week’s Presidential Budget is a prepared “set of priorities…what he’ll sign…what he won’t…but it’s not etched in stone.”
For Killelea, her present is melded with the past. “Even in high school, then college, the complete neglect and shame for people living with HIV pulled on my heartstrings,” she recalls, “especially as I was gradually realizing I too was part of the LGBTQ community as a queer woman.”
A native of Alabama, with a B.A. from the University of Alabama and an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts, she was the Chief Policy Officer for AIDS Alabama and worked on federal and state issues related to HIV/AIDS, housing, economic justice and healthcare access, and saw firsthand how dismal circumstances were, especially for the low-income and black communities.
“It was appalling,” she states bluntly. The urge within her to “cry out for justice” grew. “Serving in a soup kitchen is worthy volunteerism, but it doesn’t go far in solving inequality.”
That kind of persistence, paired with prayer, never hurts. Her NAHC legislative strategizing and numbers-crunching role shares space with a different form of passion: she is currently on a three-year “ordination track” for a Masters in Divinity at Virginia Theological Seminary to become an Episcopal priest.
“I very much want to be part of the Church and spread God’s message, which has been tarnished. “ Her voice accelerates as she points out her own domestic life, where she raises raises two children with her wife of four years: 6 month-old Harry and 2 year-old Jude. “We are all worthy of love, of marriage and a home.”
Which returns Killelea to the legislative hurdles ahead. “We are at high-tide with lobbying and the public’s help is always needed. Anyone reading this should contact their leaders to ask that the $430,000,000 budget be passed.”