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Housing Justice is Economic Justice

October 27, 2015

Turn the key to your own home, walk in and shut the door behind you – in violence-free homes, this is where we most feel like we can relax and be ourselves. Survivors of domestic violence who leave their abusive partners are searching for the same thing.

While safe housing can give a survivor a pathway to freedom, there are many barriers that prevent victims from maintaining or obtaining safe and affordable housing. Many survivors have faced economic abuse as part of the violence, meaning that they have not had access to the family finances, have been prohibited from working, and have had their credit scores destroyed by the abuser. Victims often face discrimination in accessing or maintaining housing based on the violent and criminal actions of perpetrators. Additionally, victims are limited in the locations and types of housing they can access because of their unique safety and confidentiality needs, and many housing/homelessness assistance programs have barriers that inadvertently exclude victims of violence.

When I applied for my job at the National Network to End Domestic Violence, I was excited to jump in and address any pressing issues that were barriers between survivors and their safety. I mentioned that I would like to work on housing, if I could, because it was a passion of mine. Well, little did I know that eight years later, I would be working on the intersection of housing and domestic violence as one of my main projects!

I worked in domestic violence programs for two years in England and I was impressed that survivors of domestic violence there were eligible for state-assisted housing and that eligibility actually led access! It meant that while survivors often had to wait a long time for housing, eventually they were connected with a subsidized house. One of my favorite parts of my job was visiting a survivor after she left the shelter and having a cup of tea in her new house! I remember noting the pride, excitement and relief that filled those houses. Those feelings, those survivors and their children – are my inspiration as I work at the federal level to secure housing resources for survivors and reduce barriers to housing.

Now that I work on the national level, I remember the voices of those survivors as I analyze survivors’ continued struggle here to secure safe, affordable housing and to fight discriminatory evictions and housing denials. I read the NNEDV DV Counts Census which reveals that over 50% of unmet requests for services in just one day are for housing or shelter. I read the stories in the Census of survivors searching for housing and the advocates desperately trying to help. I read the housing discrimination cases that violate the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and the Fair Housing Act, not to mention common decency and mercy, when landlords evict survivors for the abusive actions of perpetrators. I hear from advocates who are trying to maintain survivor-focused transitional housing and shelter in increasingly challenging funding environments.

On the hopeful side, I connect with advocates all of over the country who are working to increase access and resources for survivors and they tell me stories of survivors who have secured housing and whose lives are being transformed. I am heartened by the promise and potential in the new provisions in VAWA including the option to transfer to a new subsidized home to flee the violence without having to go to shelter or become homeless.

What do we need to ensure that every survivor can live safe and sound in their own home? We need to increase the availability of affordable housing, promote flexible systems that truly support the courageous survivors who flee violence, and enforce anti-discrimination laws like the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), the Fair Housing Act, and other state laws to ensure that no survivor is evicted because of the perpetrator’s actions. Solutions must include a range of options such as domestic violence shelters, transitional housing and permanent housing options including housing vouchers/assistance and mortgage assistance, as well as available federally subsidized housing. Survivors need living-wage jobs, tax-credits, access to benefits, access to child care, as well as economic literacy and financial education and job training. We need consistent, stable funding to domestic violence programs which are poised to provide many of these options, alongside housing advocacy and confidential services to help survivors.

The recipe for our continued efforts to increase each survivor’s ability to secure housing includes a righteous anger regarding the injustice, inequality and suffering, and a vision for a future where survivors can find physical and economic security in a home all their own. Safe and sound.

By Monica McLaughlin, Deputy Director of Public Policy at the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV)