Domestic Violence Survivors Fighting
for Fair Housing — and Starting to Win
By Justine Calma
On June 25, 2012, Ms. B, who is identified only by her initials in court documents to protect her safety, called 911. Her husband had threatened her with a knife; he told her he would stab her in the back once she fell asleep. He was arrested and charged with multiple misdemeanors, but three days later, he was back at home. According to court documents, he told their nine-month old daughter, “Your mother is going to die,” before threatening to shoot the mother and himself in the head.
Ms. B took her daughter and fled to a domestic violence shelter, where she could stay for up to 180 days before being required to find another place to call home.
“You can bunk up with family or go back to your abuser. Those are choices you have to make when you expire out of the domestic violence shelters,” said Raquel Singh, Executive Director of Voices of Women Organizing Project. Singh’s organization has pushed for years to change public housing policies.
In New York’s costly and competitive housing market, domestic violence survivors can face extra challenges when it comes to finding a safe place to call home. Low-income women often turn to public housing as the only affordable option for a permanent home. Securing a place to live can mean the difference between starting a new life, or continuing to live in fear.
In 2013, the NYPD responded to 280,531 domestic violence incidents, averaging 770 a day. Meanwhile, there are only about 2,000 domestic violence shelter beds in New York City.
Some 31 percent of homeless families in city shelters are homeless because of domestic violence, according to the Department of Planning’s 2010 Consolidated Plan. And research by New Destiny Housing, a nonprofit organization that provides housing and services for domestic violence-affected families, found that 80 percent of domestic violence victims leave shelters with no safe place to go.
“The public attention has largely been ignorant of the needs of homeless survivors of domestic violence,” said Catherine Trapani, Housinglink Director at New Destiny Housing. After years of survivors and advocates pushing for this issue, she said, finally there is traction. Although challenges remain, they are starting to gain ground in their fight for fair housing.
State Sen. Jeffrey D. Klein (D-Bronx and Westchester) introduced a bill this year that would give domestic abuse survivors equal priority when applying for New York City public housing. To determine eligibility for housing, New York City’s Housing Authority ranks applicants based on a priority scale. New York’s Public Housing Authority currently ranks individuals and families coming out of homeless shelters operated by the city as a higher priority than those coming out of domestic violence shelters. Continue reading