Legislative Policies and Action
Domestic violence and sexual assault are significant contributors to family homelessness and serve as both a cause and an outcome of housing instability.1 Survivors of domestic violence often must flee their homes to escape life-threatening violence. Victims of domestic violence are often punished for the actions of their abusive partners and face unfair eviction or denial of housing benefits. Survivor-centered housing programs and housing protections increase survivors’ access to safe, affordable housing, a crucial step on the pathway to long-term security. NNEDV works with national housing and homeless organizations to ensure that the housing needs of victims of domestic violence are being met through domestic violence-specific legislation, federal housing legislation, and federal regulations.
Learn more about domestic violence, housing, and homelessness.
VAWA Housing Protections and DV Housing Programs
Victims of domestic violence are often punished for the actions of their abusive partners. For example, victims of domestic violence living in public housing sometimes face unfair eviction and denial of housing benefits. The landmark housing provisions passed in the 2005 VAWA reauthorization are designed to protect victims from such housing discrimination and allow them to access the criminal justice system while maintaining their housing. VAWA housing protections allow public housing agencies (PHAs) to prioritize victims for housing when their safety dictates it, prohibit PHAs from denying housing or evicting a victim based solely on grounds of domestic violence, and clarify portability of Housing Choice Vouchers for victims. VAWA 2013, signed into law in March 2013 builds on the 2005 law. The law: expands to cover the following federally subsidized housing programs – USDA Rural Housing properties, Low-Income Housing Tax Credit properties, HUD’s McKinney-Vento homeless programs, the HOME Investment Partnerships program, the Section 221(d)(3) Below Market Interest Rate (BMIR) Program and the Section 236 Rental Program, Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA), Section 202 supportive housing for the elderly, and Section 811 supportive housing for people with disabilities; expands protections to victims of sexual assault; and requires housing programs to adopt emergency housing transfer policies.
VAWA housing protections are designed to allow victims to maintain or access safe housing, and yet the lack of consistent implementation has limited the effectiveness of these protections. Many of the housing provisions and protections under VAWA are not fully executed at the local level. HUD issued a final rule on the VAWA housing protections in October 2010 that, by and large, responds to advocates’ concerns. The final rule will help foster consistent implementation and provide clearer guidance to housing providers on how to apply the VAWA housing protections. The final rule also indicates that HUD will continue to provide further guidance on the housing protections. Clearly the new protections, covering additional programs, will require swift and consistent implementation as well.
Additionally, VAWA requires grantees and subgrantees to maintain the confidentiality of personally identifying victim information. It prohibits disclosure of personally identifying information or individual information collected in connection with services requested, utilized, or denied through grantees’ and subgrantees’ programs without the informed, written, reasonably time-limited consent of the person.
Federally funded DV Housing Programs
Many victims fleeing violence need safe, affordable housing after leaving shelter; otherwise, they may be forced to return to their abuser or live on the streets. Two federal grant programs create housing options for survivors:
- The VAWA Transitional Housing program, administered by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) supports critical interim housing programs that help victims and their families rebuild their lives after escaping abuse.
- The Domestic Violence (DV) Bonus funding set aside in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Continuum of Care (COC) Homelessness Assistance grant program provides rapid rehousing and other housing options to survivors.
Congress must fund these vital programs in the FY 2022 budget.
In addition to the vital funding streams, NNEDV supports legislative fixes to increase housing options for survivors. We encourage Congress to pass the HEALS Act, legislation that would help ensure that survivors’ unique housing needs are met through HUD’s Continuum of Care program.
NNEDV is a partner in the Domestic Violence and Housing Technical Assistance Consortium DVHTAC and works with local communities to design and implement safe housing options for survivors. Contact us for more information.
HMIS and Confidentiality
Victim confidentiality is essential to maintain victim safety. NNEDV works with policymakers to ensure that local domestic violence service providers do not have to provide identifying information on victims to HUD’s Homelessness Management Information System (HMIS) and other third-party databases.
- Studies have shown that domestic violence and sexual assault are the drivers of homelessness for, women, children, families and LGBTQ individuals. See generally Los Angeles Women’s Need Assessment (2019) Retrieved from https://www.downtownwomenscenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/DWC-2019-Los-Angeles-Womens-Needs-Assessment.pdf; Journal of American Medical Women’s Association, 53(2), 57-64. Homelessness in Minnesota 2003; Levin, R., McKean, L, & Raphael, J. (2014). Pathways to and from homelessness: Women and children in Chicago shelters. Retrieved from http://www.issuelab.org/resources/346/346.pdf; Nat’l Center on Family Homelessness & Health Care for the Homeless Clinicians’ Network (2003). Social supports for homeless mothers. Retrieved from http://www.nhchc.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/SocialSupportsReport.pdf; Institute For Children & Poverty (2002). The hidden migration: Why New York City shelters are overflowing with families. Retrieved from http://www.icphusa.org/PDF/reports/foster.pdf; Homes for the Homeless & Institute For Children & Poverty (1998). Ten cities 1997-1998: A snapshot of family homelessness across America. New York City, NY: Institute for Children and Poverty; Virginia Coalition for the Homeless, 1995 Shelter Provider Survey (1995)(out of print), cited in Nat’l Coalition for the Homeless, Domestic Violence and Homelessness: NCH Fact Sheet #8 (1999). In another study, 76% of African American women attributed their rapes to the riskiness of their living environments (West, C. M. (2006). Sexual violence in the lives of African American women: Risk, response, and resilience. VAWnet: The National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women.). Once homeless, it is well-documented that individuals are at increased risk for sexual victimization and commercial sexual exploitation. Women and men who experienced food insecurity or housing insecurity in a 12-month period had a significantly higher prevalence of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in that same time period, as compared to women and men who did not experience such food and housing insecurity (Breiding, M. J., Chen J., & Black, M.C. (2014). Intimate partner violence in the United States — 2010. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/cdc_nisvs_ipv_report_2013_v17_single_a.pdf).