Imagine coming home to find that you are being evicted from your apartment. But it’s not because you haven’t paid rent; it’s because you are a victim of domestic violence. That’s exactly what happened to ACLU client Tanica Lewis.
In 2006, Tanica and her two daughters were kicked out of their apartment, after her ex-boyfriend violated a protective order and broke into Tanica’s apartment by smashing her windows and kicking in the door. A few days later, Tanica was told she had to vacate the premises because she failed to properly supervise her “guest.” Tanica and her daughters were forced to move into another apartment, but at a higher rent and farther from Tanica’s job.
Unfortunately for Tanica, housing protections created by the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) did not apply to her situation even though she lived in an apartment complex financed by federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credits. Currently, VAWA housing protections only apply to two federal housing programs, public housing and Section 8 housing.
But that is about to change. Last week Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) introduced the Housing Rights for Victims of Domestic and Sexual Violence Act (S. 1892). Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) are the lead cosponsors. This important piece of legislation would extend VAWA housing protections to nine additional federal programs, including the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program, and would cover more than 4 million housing units nationwide.
The bill also would extend housing protections to victims of sexual assault. VAWA protections now only apply to victims of domestic violence, dating violence and stalking. Too often, victims of sexual assault are forced to make the gut-wrenching decision to either stay put in a dangerous situation, or lacking any other housing option, choose homelessness, where they are further at risk of sexual abuse. Finally, the bill would allow victims to relocate to other available housing if staying in their current home posed a danger.
It’s time to stop punishing the victims of domestic and sexual abuse. Congress must act quickly to end the discrimination that endangers an already vulnerable population. We thank Sen. Franken for taking the first important step in addressing this problem and hope that lawmakers will work together to pass this bill. No one should have to experience what Tanica and her daughters had to go through.