Mansfield skyline

A 2023 housing needs assessment found there were fewer than 200,000 affordable homes or apartments available for 450,000 Ohio renters with extremely low income. The Ohio Housing Finance Agency (OHFA) also found that more than 1 million Ohioans spend at least half their income on housing. Richland County’s own housing study found 21 percent of renters spend more than 50 percent of their income on rent and utilities.

The housing cost burden and lack of affordable housing comes as no surprise to Equitas Health housing advocates. Their clients in Richland and nearby counties often struggle to find safe, clean housing they can afford.

“I’ve had clients who have been couch hopping and staying with cousins or friends. I have one client who lives in a camper on a rented lot. The rental fee is more than half their monthly income from social security,” said V Williams, a housing advocate with Equitas Health Mansfield.

“There is not enough available housing for our clients, and the housing that is available is not affordable,” said Williams.

Add to that the need for senior housing and permanent supportive housing for people who use drugs or have a mental health crisis. “There is a real need for LGBTQ+ people in their 70s. We have people who have had to move because they cannot keep their housing,” said Jodi Startup, health advocacy supervisor in the Mansfield office.

Equitas Health knows positive health outcomes depend on stable housing. The Columbus-based, non-profit regional healthcare system serves people living with HIV/AIDS, the LGBTQ+ community, and anyone seeking a welcoming and affirming healthcare home. Offices across the state, including the Mansfield office, connect people to free HIV and STI testing, doctors and pharmacists who treat HIV, dentists, counselors, support groups, and housing assistance.

The Mansfield office serves 160 clients living in Ashland, Crawford, Erie, Huron, Knox, Marion, Morrow, Richland, Seneca, and Wyandot counties. Most of those clients are living with HIV.

“Our clients already struggle with health issues. When they can’t make rent or find housing, that stress impacts their health. It’s a domino effect,” said Williams.

Clients enrolled in medical or non-medical case management with Equitas Health may be able to get housing assistance through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Ohio Department of Health. To do so, they must be at or below 80 percent of the area median income. In Richland County, single clients who make less than $43,900 a year or a family of four earning less than $62,700 can apply for assistance.

According to OHFA, average rent in Ohio rose from $788 per month in 2012 to $870 per month in 2021. Some landlords will only rent to people who make three times the cost of their monthly rent, said Kelsey Strausbaugh, director of housing programs for Equitas Health. This means a person would have to earn $2,610 a month to rent an apartment for $870.

A medical crisis often leads to a change in housing for clients. They may need short-term help with rent, have to move in with family, or move to more affordable housing.

“They have to deal with moving costs, a security deposit, the rental application fee, and the first month’s rent. Add health issues and the inability to work and it can be overwhelming,” Williams said.

Most people just need help with that first month’s rent or the security deposit to get them on their feet. Housing advocates walk with clients through the questions and paperwork to get them there.

While Equitas Health medical case managers work with clients to set healthcare goals, housing advocates help them set housing goals. Those goals might include staying independent, finding a job, and making and keeping appointments.

The team regularly checks in on clients to make sure they work on their goals, take care of their health, and pay their rent beyond the first month.

“Any time a client finds a new space to live, can pay their rent, and be independent – it’s a success story,” said Williams. Learn more about HIV health & housing support services at

Equitas Health Mansfield is located at 410 Park Ave. West, Suite 5. Walk in hours are MON – FRI from 9 AM – 5 PM, or call (419) 525-2437 to make an appointment.

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