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June 2012 Verve: 2012 VAWA Re-Authorization: Enhancing Housing Protections for DV Victims

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In a recent letter to the U.S. House of Representative’s Judiciary Committee, Rita Smith, Executive Director of the National Coalition to End Domestic Violence, noted that the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is “one of the few federal policies that has been unfettered by partisanship and divided government.”[i] Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. The U.S. Senate, in a bi-partisan vote of 61-38, passed Senate Bill 1925, a reauthorization that advocates are referring to as “The Real VAWA.” It would not only re-authorize protections and programs currently available under VAWA, but would also add several new provisions designed to enhance our ability to keep victims safe. Unfortunately, the U.S. House of Representatives, in a highly partisan vote of 221-205, passed HR 4970, a re-authorization that not only leaves out many of the enhancements contained in S. 1925, but rolls back existing protections that have been instrumental in promoting safety in our communities.

The fate of VAWA will now likely rest in the hands of a Conference Committee tasked with resolving the differences between the two versions. Advocates and experts from around the country are urging legislators to work towards a bill that closely mirrors S. 1925. In this issue of VERVE, DVCC360 highlights one area at issue that is particularly relevant to our community and the victims we serve – enhancements to the housing protections available for victims of domestic violence.

 

HISTORY OF VAWA

Since 1994, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has served as the foundation for efforts both locally and across the country to identify and respond effectively to the needs of families struggling with domestic violence. Historically, it has enjoyed broad bi-partisan support because we have made a commitment to making it easier for victims to report the abuse, so that offenders can be held accountable for the crimes they have committed, and to access comprehensive services to enable them to successfully move on safely.

A highly successful piece of federal legislation, VAWA has achieved tangible results. Since its passage:   

  • The reporting of domestic violence crimes has increased by at least 51%;[ii]
  • The number of intimate partner homicides has decreased by 34% for women

and 57% for men;[iii] 

  • Over 660 individual state laws have been passed to combat domestic violence,

sexual assault and stalking;[iv] 

  • Every state has now passed legislation making stalking a crime and changed

laws that treated spousal rape as a lesser crime than stranger rape;[v] and

  • The National Organization for Women endorses a 67% decrease in the non-

fatal rate of intimate partner violence;[vi]

VAWA has been re-authorized twice (2000 & 2005). At each reauthorization, Congress worked with domestic violence experts, soliciting input as to what was needed to further the goals of VAWA. As a result, each reauthorization brought enhancements to VAWA meant to respond to evolving research on the needs of victims. These enhancements were embraced by Democrats and Republicans alike – almost unanimously,[vii] and over the years, the DVCC has seen firsthand how they have saved lives. The housing enhancements proposed in the Senate’s re-authorization legislation would continue that tradition.

 

SAFE AND AFFORDABLE HOUSING IS KEY TO SAFETY

Two key challenges for victims of domestic violence seeking to leave an abusive situation are: “Where am I going to live once I leave?” and “Am I going to be able to independently support myself?” Connecticut has 16 domestic violence safehouses providing 24/7 emergency shelter and supportive services for victims and their children. While safehouses are critical to ensuring immediate safety, most victims are limited to a 60 day stay and work incredibly hard during this short period to find safe and alternative housing. They are often swimming against the tide. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, it takes the average homeless family 6 to 10 months to find permanent housing.[viii] When victims cannot find safe and affordable housing, many see returning to the abuser as the only viable option.[ix]

Recognizing the importance of safe and affordable housing to a victim’s ability to successfully move on from abuse, VAWA already contains several housing protections for victims.[x] Some of these include:

  • An individual’s status as a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking is not an appropriate basis for denial of admission or denial of housing assistance;[xi]
  • Exception to the federal “one strike” criminal activity eviction rule: an incident of actual or threatened domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking does not qualify as a “serious or repeated violation of the lease” or “good cause for terminating the assistance, tenancy, or occupancy rights of the victim;”[xii]
  • A landlord may bifurcate a lease in order to evict the offender while allowing the victim to remain;[xiii] and
  • Portability of Section 8 vouchers between jurisdictions to allow victims of domestic violence to escape an imminent threat of future violence.[xiv]

Senate Bill 1925 proposes two additional substantive enhancements that would lead to even fewer victims of domestic violence having to make the choice between returning to an abusive situation or becoming homeless. 

 

HOUSING ENHANCEMENTS IN SENATE BILL 1925

The Senate’s reauthorization would further enhance the ability of victims to keep their current public housing assistance by:

  • Mandating the development and implementation of a model emergency transfer plan; and
  • Requiring housing owners and managers to provide a victim with a formal notification of his or her VAWA rights upon the initiation of an eviction action.

With public housing, a resident’s obligation to contribute to the monthly rent is capped at 30% of their income. For those working a minimum wage job, a market rate two bedroom apartment on 30% of household income is all but completely out of reach without public assistance. In Connecticut, an individual must earn $23.58 per hour to afford a market rate two bedroom apartment on 30% of their income. In the Stamford/Norwalk area, that jumps to $34.02 per hour. For a single mother working a minimum wage job, that would be the equivalent of 114 hours per week. And public housing assistance is not easy to obtain.

The average time a local family spends waiting for public housing is 3 to 5 years. Because of this, without the ability to have their public housing assistance transferred to a safer location, victims of domestic violence, especially those with children, are faced with choosing between leaving their public housing assistance behind and returning to a waiting list three to five years long or remaining in the abusive situation, trying to make the best of it in order to keep a two impossible choices: (1) leave their public housing assistance behind, and return to the three to five year waiting list; or (2) remain in abusive situation trying to make the best of it in order to keep a roof over the heads of their children.

 Public Housing Authorities already have the discretion to adopt policies to ensure that a public housing resident can move if he or she is experiencing domestic violence. In fact, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has urged PHAs to do so.[xv] However, PHAs have demonstrated little willingness to voluntary adopt such policies. The DVCC is not aware of any PHA within the State of Connecticut that has a formal policy that allows a victim to transfer their public housing assistance outside of the jurisdiction of that particular PHA. In fact, very few PHAs in Connecticut even have established procedures to allow victims to transfer within their particular jurisdiction.

DVCC Housing Advocate, Katie Evans, stresses the importance of safe and affordable housing to a victim’s success in moving on successfully from abuse. “For many clients the choice comes down to returning to the abuser, or becoming homeless,” says Evans.  “A permanent housing solution, like public housing assistance, allows them to move forward with securing long term employment, child care, and establishing a normal family routine again.” Evans works with a handful of clients every year who struggle with the decision of whether to give up their public housing or stay in abusive relationship. The housing enhancement proposed in the Senate reauthorization that would require every PHA to adopt a formal transferability policy for these victims to access would make a world of difference.

Perhaps even more relevant to victims of abuse within our local community is the proposed enhancement in S. 1925 that would require PHAs and Section 8 landlords to provide a notice of VAWA rights at the point eviction proceedings are initiated. As cited above, the housing rights codified by VAWA protect victims from being evicted from public housing based on the actions of their perpetrator and/or their status as a victim. Currently, PHAs and Section 8 landlords are required to provide a notice of these VAWA rights in the leasing document(s). The Senate bill would additionally mandate that the notice be provided at the time a PHA or Section 8 landlord begins the eviction process. To many, this may seem like a duplication of efforts. However, without a notice at eviction, many victims never know that they have these rights. Why? Because many victims are not the head of household. They never see and/or do not have access to the lease documents. In these cases, victims who have legal remedies that would permit them to retain their public housing benefits are again faced that impossible choice of going back to their abuser or becoming homeless.

DVCC360 continues to advocate for enhancements to VAWA that will strengthen our ability to keep victims safe. We encourage all of our community partners to explore the current VAWA re-authorization proposals and evaluate how they would impact the great work being done across our communities to combat domestic violence. Links to both re-authorization bills are provided below.

U.S. Senate, S. 1925: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-112s1925rs/pdf/BILLS-112s1925rs.pdf.

U.S. House of Representatives, HR 4970: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-112hr4970eh/pdf/BILLS-112hr4970eh.pdf.



[i] Full text available at: http://4vawa.org/pages/letters-in-opposition-to-hr-4970, along with letters of opposition to HR 4970 submitted by over 20 other organizations (last visited June 1, 2012).

[ii] See “Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act: Building on Our Successes;” National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women (available at: http://4vawa.org/pages/vawa-fact-sheets) (last visited: June 1, 2012); See also “Support Reauthorization of S. 1925, ‘The Violence Against Women Act,’ and Oppose All Amendments,” an open letter to the U.S. Senate from Wade Henderson and Nancy Zirkin of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (April 24, 2012).

[iii] See “Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act: Building on Our Successes;” National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women (available at: http://4vawa.org/pages/vawa-fact-sheets) (last visited: June 1, 2012).

[iv] See “The Violence Against Women Act: 10 Years of Progress and Moving Forward;” National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence (available at:http://www.ncadv.org/files/OverviewFormatted1.pdf) (last visited: June 1, 2012).

[v] See “The Violence Against Women Act: 10 Years of Progress and Moving Forward;” National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence (available at:http://www.ncadv.org/files/OverviewFormatted1.pdf) (last visited: June 1, 2012).

[vi] See “Violence Against Women Act Needs Your Voice Now!” National Organization for Women, March 20, 2012 (available at: http://action.now.org/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=5704) (last visited: June 1, 2012).

[vii] The 2000 VAWA reauthorization passed in the Senate by a vote of 95-0 and the House of Representatives by a vote of 371-1. The 2005 VAWA reauthorization passed in the Senate by unanimous consent and the House of Representatives by a vote of 415-4. 

[viii] See “Domestic Violence and Housing,” the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, available at: http://www.ncadv.org/files/Housing_.pdf (last visited June 1, 2012).

[ix] See 42 U.S.C. § 14043e

[x] VAWA’s existing housing protections, including those cited above, currently only apply to: all public housing agencies (PHAs) administering federal public housing; Section 8 voucher programs; and all landlords, owners and managers participating in the Section 8 voucher and project-based programs. Laudably, both re-authorization proposals, S. 1925 and HR 4970, would apply VAWA’s housing protections to additional programs, such as HUD affordable housing and homelessness programs, USDA rural housing programs, and the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program. This expansion will allow many more victims of domestic violence to access existing VAWA protections, including all of those cited above.

[xi] See 42 U.S.C. § 1437d(c)(3) (2006); 42 U.S.C. § 1437f(c)(9)(A) (2006); 42 U.S.C. § 1437f(d)(1)(A) (2006); 42 U.S.C. § 1437f(o)(B) (2006). 

[xii] See 42 U.S.C. § 1437d(l)(5) (2006); 42 U.S.C. § 1437f(c)(9)(B) (2006); 42 U.S.C. § 1437f(d)(1)(B) (2006); 42 U.S.C. § 1437f(o)(7)(C) (2006); 42 U.S.C. § 1437f(o)(20)(A) (2006). 

[xiii] See 42 U.S.C. § 1437d(l)(6) (2006); 42 U.S.C. § 1437f(c)(9)(C); 42 U.S.C. § 1437f(d)(1)(C) (2006); 42 U.S.C. § 1437f(o)(7)(D)  (2006); 42 U.S.C. § 1437f(o)(20)(B) (2006).

[xiv] See 42 U.S.C. § 1437f(ee)(2)(B)  (2006). 

[xv] See U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Public Housing Occupancy Guidebook §§ 19.2, 19.4 (2003).


Choosing Between Abuse and Homelessness

  • Women and families experience housing discrimination because of their status as victims of domestic violence;
  • Victims often lack steady income, credit history, landlord references, and a current address due to financial abuse by their batterers; and
  • When victims cannot find safe and affordable long term housing, many see returning to the abuser as the only viable solution.

Violence Against Women Act (See 42 U.S.C. § 14043e)

 

37% of homeless parents in Connecticut cited domestic violence as a contributing cause.

Connecticut’s 2011 Point in Time Brief, available at: www.cceh.org/publications/detail/connecticuts-homeless-point-in-time-count-brief-20111.