History: 25 Years Fighting for
Justice & Dignity

Celebrating its 25th anniversary, HIV Law Project remains the only legal agency providing comprehensive legal services exclusively to low-income people living with HIV/AIDS in New York City. HIV Law Project handles nearly 1,000 cases each year addressing a range of critical legal needs for positive people, including housing advocacy and eviction prevention, immigration services, and benefits issues. HIV Law Project targets its resources to traditionally underserved populations, particularly women and their families; people of color; undocumented and recent immigrants; members of the LGBT community; and the homeless.

In addition to its renowned direct legal services program, HIV Law Project advances public policies that are responsive to the needs of marginalized people living with HIV and AIDS. Informed by 25 years of experience on the front lines of HIV services, HIV Law Project monitors local, state, and national policy as it impacts people living with HIV, engages in education of decision-makers around important policy issues, and produces policy reports and publications on a range of domestic HIV policy issues.

Founded in 1989, HIV Law Project has been at the forefront of legal and advocacy services to low-income HIV-positive New Yorkers, particularly women and people of color. At a time when AIDS was primarily seen as a disease affecting upper- and middle-class white gay men, a growing population of poor HIV-positive women and men of color desperately needed legal services but had nowhere to turn for help. To fill that gap, Terry McGovern, Esq., established HIV Law Project. HIV Law Project filed its first class action against the federal government in 1990, challenging the Social Security Administration’s discriminatory denial of disability benefits to women and people of color. Initially operating under the umbrella of other agencies, HIV Law Project became an independently chartered non-profit corporation in 1994. Terry McGovern served as the founding Executive Director until 1999.

After an interim appointee through 2001, Tracy L. Welsh, Esq., a seasoned public-interest lawyer and committed HIV activist, joined HIV Law Project as Executive Director in 2002. Assuming leadership during crisis, Ms. Welsh led the agency back to fiscal and programmatic stability. HIV Law Project has since built is infrastructure, rebranded its public image, expanded communications, and established a strategic plan to ensure its on-going innovation and long-term viability. HIV Law Project has expanded its direct legal services to respond to clients’ changing needs and greatly enhanced it public policy role at both the local and national levels.

In October 2013, HIV Law Project merged with Housing Works, whose legal department has taken the lead in fighting for clients wrestling with homelessness and HIV/AIDS, and the rights of transgender clients to receive services, among other areas. One recent focus includes combating, through impact litigation, landlords and brokers who systematically practice “source of income” discrimination in housing.

Together, the new entity will help to secure and maintain affordable housing for clients, ensure basic human rights, and combat discrimination against those living with HIV/AIDS. As of July 2014, Housing Works’ Senior Vice President for Prevention and Advocacy, Ms. Linney C. Smith, has assumed the position of Executive Director of HIV Law Project while continuing in her existing role at Housing Works.