Accumulating evidence suggests responses to HIV that combine individual-level interventions with those that address structural or contextual factors that influence risks and health outcomes of infection. Housing is such a factor. Housing occupies a strategic position as an intermediate structural factor, linking “upstream” economic, social, and cultural determinants to the more immediate physical and social environments in which everyday life is lived. The importance of housing status for HIV prevention and care has been recognized, but much of this attention has focused on homeless individuals as a special risk group. Analyses have less often addressed community housing availability and conditions as factors influencing population health or unstable, inadequate, or unaffordable housing as a situation or temporary state. A focus on individual-level characteristics associated with literal homelessness glosses over social, economic, and policy drivers operating largely outside any specific individual’s control that affect housing and residential environments and the health resources or risk exposures such contexts provide.
We examined the available empirical evidence on the association between housing status (broadly defined), medical care, and health outcomes among people with HIV and analyzed results to inform future research, program development, and policy implementation.
We searched 8 electronic health and social science databases from January 1, 1996, through March 31, 2014, using search terms related to housing, dwelling, and living arrangements and HIV and AIDS. We contacted experts for additional literature.
We selected articles if they were quantitative analyses published in English, French, or Spanish that included at least 1 measure of housing status as an independent variable and at least 1 health status, health care, treatment adherence, or risk behavior outcome among people with HIV in high-income countries. We defined housing status to include consideration of material or social dimensions of housing adequacy, stability, and security of tenure.
Data extraction and analysis
Two independent reviewers performed data extraction and quality appraisal. We used the Cochrane Risk of Bias Tool for randomized controlled trials and a modified version of the Newcastle Ottawa Quality Appraisal Tool for nonintervention studies. In our quality appraisal, we focused on issues of quality for observational studies: appropriate methods for determining exposure and measuring outcomes and methods to control confounding.
Searches yielded 5528 references from which we included 152 studies, representing 139 757 HIV-positive participants. Most studies were conducted in the United States and Canada. Studies examined access and utilization of HIV medical care, adherence to antiretroviral medications, HIV clinical outcomes, other health outcomes, emergency department and inpatient utilization, and sex and drug risk behaviors. With rare exceptions, across studies in all domains, worse housing status was independently associated with worse outcomes, controlling for a range of individual patient and care system characteristics.
We found strong evidence that the lack of stable, secure, adequate housing is a significant barrier to consistent and appropriate HIV medical care, access and adherence to antiretroviral medications, sustained viral suppression, and risk of forward transmission. Studies that examined the history of homelessness or problematic housing years before outcome assessment were least likely to find negative outcomes, consistent with understanding homelessness as a potentially modifiable contextual factor rather than a fixed personal characteristic. The randomized controlled trials support evidence from observational studies that housing assistance has an independent effect on improved outcomes for formerly homeless or inadequately housed people with HIV. Housing challenges are the result of complex interactions between individual vulnerabilities and broader economic, political, and legal structural determinants of health. Broader structural processes sustaining social exclusion and inequality would seem beyond the immediate reach of HIV interventions; changing housing and residential environments is both possible and promising.