Civil Rights Groups Fight Eviction of Battered Women Under "Zero Tolerance" Housing Policy
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
PORTLAND, OR–In the first legal challenge of its kind, Legal Aid Services of Oregon and the Oregon Law Center, in coalition with national women’s rights advocates, today joined a federal sex discrimination lawsuit challenging a property management company’s policy of evicting victims of domestic violence from their homes.
Today’s legal action was joined by attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Women’s Rights Project and NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund.
According to the lawsuit, Tiffani Alvera, 24, was served with a 24-hour eviction notice in 1999 by Creekside Village Apartments in Oregon after she informed them that she had taken out a temporary restraining order against her husband, who had attacked her in their apartment.
“”What happened to Tiffani is not an aberration,”” said Ellen Johnson, staff attorney in the Hillsboro Regional Legal Aid Services of Oregon office and lead counsel in the case. “”Victims of domestic violence are losing their homes and being denied housing opportunities solely because of the behavior of their abusers.”
Similar zero tolerance policies against violence are applied to victims of domestic violence in both private and subsidized housing throughout the United States, including Michigan, California, Louisiana, Colorado and Massachusetts, Johnson said.
The case initially was filed by the U.S. Department of Justice on behalf of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which investigated the matter and determined that Ms. Alvera’s rights had been violated. With today’s legal action, Ms. Alvera joins the case on her own behalf, represented by the rights groups. The case will now be heard in U.S. District Court.
“”It is both cruel and illogical to apply a zero tolerance housing policy to a victim of domestic violence,”” said Lenora Lapidus, Director of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project and co-counsel in the lawsuit. “”We all want to live in a safe environment, but punishing innocent victims and discriminating against women is not the way to achieve that aim.””
Government and academic studies consistently report that the vast majority of domestic violence victims are female and that their abusers are known to them. Thus, today’s lawsuit claims, the zero tolerance policy discriminates against women on the basis of their gender, in violation of federal law.
On August 2, 1999, Tiffani Alvera was physically assaulted by her husband in their two-bedroom apartment. The police were called and her husband was arrested, lodged in jail and charged with assault.
That same day, Ms. Alvera went to Clatsop County Circuit Court and obtained a restraining order prohibiting her husband from coming on to the apartment complex where they lived.
When she gave the resident manager a copy of the restraining order, she was told the management company had decided to evict her under a zero tolerance policy against violence. Two days later, Ms. Alvera was served with a notice of eviction. Subsequently, Ms. Alvera’s attempts to pay rent for August and September were refused, as was her application for a smaller apartment.
“”Victims of domestic violence across the country are vulnerable to this hidden discrimination,”” said Martha Davis, Legal Director, NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund. “”At the moment when they most need housing in order to start a new life, women are being thrown out of their homes because of their partners’ violence.””
The case is Alvera v. C.B.M. et al. Ms. Alvera is represented by Johnson of Oregon Legal Aid Services; Michelle Ryan of the Oregon Legal Center; Geoffrey Boehm and Wendy Weiser of NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund based in New York; and Lapidus of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, also based in New York.
A legal brief in the case can be read online at: http://archive.aclu.org/court/alvera.pdf.
The ACLU Fact Sheet on domestic violence is available at: http://archive.aclu.org/news/2001/domviolence_factsheet.html
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Today, gender bias continues to create huge barriers for many women. Ongoing struggles include ensuring equal economic opportunities, educational equity, and an end to gender-based violence.