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State Housing Finance Agencies Should Prevent Housing Discrimination Against Survivors of Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence Drawing
Domestic Violence Drawing
Cristel Taveras,
Legal Assistant,
Women's Rights Project, ACLU
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May 31, 2017

After her ex-boyfriend stalked and harassed her, Tanica Lewis obtained a personal protection order against him. She informed her Detroit landlord of the order, which required him to stay away from her apartment. In March 2006, while she was at work, he broke the windows of her home and kicked in the door.

Ms. Lewis reported the incident to the police and the property manager. Despite the protective order, the landlord held her responsible for property damage resulting from the home invasion and issued her an eviction notice. Ms. Lewis was forced to move her family from the property to a more expensive apartment that was also located further from her job.

At the time, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) — which prohibits evicting survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking based on the violence — did not apply to housing such as Ms. Lewis’, which was funded by the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program. This changed in 2013 when Congress amended VAWA to cover LIHTC properties to protect survivors like Ms. Lewis. The expansion was significant, as LIHTC funds about 90 percent of affordable housing developed today.

Although four years have passed since the expansion of VAWA, a new report shows that many state housing finance agencies have not yet effectively implemented these protections as part of their oversight of LIHTC properties. “Protections Delayed: State Housing Finance Agency Compliance with the Violence Against Women Act— issued by the ACLU, the National Network to End Domestic Violence, the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, the National Housing Law Project, the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, and Regional Housing Legal Services surveyed state housing finance agencies to assess whether they had taken measures, such as including VAWA protections in leases, training property owners about the law, and monitoring whether owners are in compliance.

Citing the failure of the Department of Treasury to issue guidance or regulations on VAWA for LIHTC properties, too many states have taken no action. However, state agencies have wide discretion to implement VAWA in the absence of Treasury guidance. Notably Illinois, Missouri, Michigan, and Pennsylvania have taken proactive measures, such as providing information about VAWA rights to LIHTC residents and including VAWA compliance when evaluating LIHTC owners.

The report highlights actions that state agencies and advocates can take to ensure that LIHTC properties comply with VAWA. It also urges the Treasury Department to take critical steps to extend protections to millions of tenants who should not face eviction for the actions of their abusers. When all state agencies put VAWA’s protections in place, survivors like Ms. Lewis can finally be secure in their housing and their lives.

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