Housing Bill Seeks to Protect Survivors of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault
U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) recently introduced legislation that would provide legal protections to ensure access to safe housing for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Building on protections in the Violence Against Women Act and the Fair Housing Act, the “Fair Housing for Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Survivors Act of 2016” (S.3164) would establish a nationwide standard that victims of domestic violence and sexual assault cannot be evicted or otherwise penalized solely for being victims of those crimes.
With the new protections included in this legislation, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) would be provided clear and direct authority to protect victims of domestic violence and sexual assault from housing discrimination. The bill would also serve as a federal model to encourage more states to adopt similar protections.
“Domestic violence and sexual assault survivors have so many obstacles to overcome—it’s unconscionable that women are removed from their homes and face repeated discrimination simply because of the heinous crimes committed against them,” said Senator Shaheen. “We need to continue working to change the culture surrounding domestic violence and sexual assault, and a big part of that effort is recognizing that women suffering from physical or sexual abuse are victims of crime and deserve our support. The Fair Housing for Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Survivors Act of 2016 would ensure that we are no longer punishing victims for the crimes committed against them, and would go a long way toward helping survivors recover and rebuild.”
According to a survey by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, of 76 legal and social service providers who handle evictions and housing denials, more than 10 percent of all evictions and more than 25 percent of housing denials involved victims of domestic violence because of the crimes committed against them. Women are frequently the victims of violent acts by an intimate partner. One in four women will experience domestic violence or sexual assault in her lifetime and women residing in low-income neighborhoods are twice as likely to be victims of intimate partner violence. As many as 50 percent of all homeless women and children are fleeing domestic violence and 92 percent of homeless women have experienced severe physical or sexual abuse at some point in their lives.
The Violence Against Women Act of 2005 provided the first housing protections for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault; however, that legislation was limited to federally funded public housing and federally subsidized housing programs. The Fair Housing for Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Survivors Act of 2016 would amend the Fair Housing Act to ensure that legal protections for domestic violence and sexual assault victims apply broadly across the housing market.
This new legislation has been endorsed by 32 domestic violence, fair housing, and legal service organizations including the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, American Civil Liberties Union, National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, National Network to End Domestic Violence, National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.