Protecting Domestic Violence Victims from Eviction and Homelessness

Posted by Miriam Axel-Lute on October 26, 2012

Imagine calling the police because you were in danger of your life. Now imagine getting evicted for doing so. Now imagine choosing not to call for help—on your own behalf, or on behalf of a neighbor, because you are afraid of being evicted.

Unfortunately, this is an unintended consequence of many affordable housing complex lease provisions, which allow for eviction if police are called to a unit.

Pennsylvania has just made a change to its 2013 Low Income Housing Tax Credit QAP (that's the whole QAP as a pdf, by the way. Be warned.) to prevent this sort of scenario, specifiying that all LIHTC owners must certify annually that being a victim of domestic violence does not constitute cause for eviction in their properties. Regional Housing Legal Services, along with attorneys from Community Legal Services in Philadelphia, researched the issue and advocated for this change for more than three years.

These are the kinds of small, unsexy policy changes that make real difference in people's lives—there are 80,000 LIHTC units in Pennsylvania right now. It's similar to CDFIs figuring out how to protect survivors' IDA savings accounts.

But as Maria Foscarinis of National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty pointed out this week, to provide safety for domestic violence survivors we also have to increase the amount of affordable housing that is out there for them to go to when they leave an abusive situation. As Foscarinis wrote:

Domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness—for women, in particular, as well as unaccompanied youth. In 2011, the U.S. Conference of Mayors reported that 13 percent of homeless women surveyed cited domestic violence or abuse as the primary cause of their homelessness. As noted in a new report by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, 43 percent of unaccompanied homeless youth report leaving home after being beaten by a caretaker, and 25 percent report that a caretaker requested sexual activity.

For many, the only choice may be between continued abuse and fleeing their home. Fear of homelessness may deter victims who lack adequate financial resources of their own, or whose finances have been compromised by their abuser, from leaving. Indeed, for those who lack the resources to secure alternate housing, the result may be homelessness—and further violence.

This is one of the many reasons why a strong affordable housing commitment also supports public health and crime prevention, and why something like the Violence Against Women Act is relevant to the affordable housing field. 

So congratulations to Pennsylvania and may your success both save lives and lead to more conversations about what comes next.

About the author more »

Miriam Axel-Lute is editor of Shelterforce and associate director of the National Housing Institute. Her email is miriam at nhi dot org.

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