It took a while, but earlier this year, Congress reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act, which expanded important housing protections for survivors of domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault. As we reported earlier, previous VAWA protections only applied to public housing and Section 8 programs, leaving many survivors vulnerable to eviction.
That’s exactly what happened to ACLU client Tanica Lewis. In 2006, Tanica and her two daughters were kicked out of their home after her ex-boyfriend violated a protective order and broke into Tanica’s apartment, smashing her windows and kicking in the door.
Days later, Tanica was told she had to vacate the premises, because she failed to supervise her “guest” properly. Unfortunately for Tanica, VAWA’s housing protections didn’t apply to her apartment complex at the time, since it was financed by federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC).
So we urged Congress to expand VAWA’s safeguards to include nine additional federal housing programs, including the LIHTC program. We are grateful that our efforts were successful. With the broadened scope of VAWA 2013, which now covers more than 4 million housing units, Congress provided individuals like Tanica access to essential housing protections.
Now, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is preparing to issue guidance on VAWA’s new housing protections and recently sought input on how best to implement VAWA 2013 and fulfill the law’s promise. In response, the ACLU called on the department to put forward strong guidance and rules that cement protections for survivors who would otherwise risk losing their housing because of the violence perpetrated against them.
One area HUD must address is the lack of enforcement mechanisms survivors have to assert their VAWA rights. Without these mechanisms, many survivors have no recourse in cases where they’ve been improperly denied their housing rights and continue to face discrimination and danger as they seek secure, stable housing.
Advocates have also witnessed too many survivors make the gut-wrenching decision to either stay put in a dangerous situation or choose homelessness, where they are further at risk of violence and abuse. Fortunately, survivors will no longer be placed in that position thanks to VAWA 2013’s new provisions on housing transfers. HUD must now adopt a model emergency transfer plan for housing providers that allows tenants who are survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking to transfer to another available unit. This policy is critically important and, if implemented correctly, has the potential to save lives and prevent homelessness.
We commend HUD for taking the important first steps in implementing VAWA 2013’s housing protections. Only robust implementation and enforcement can address ongoing threats to the housing security of victims of violence and ensure that survivors like Tanica get the protections they need rather than an eviction notice.