It is well known that there is a strong correlation between domestic violence and homelessness. An astounding number of families report experiences of violence and abuse; 57% of all women experiencing homelessness report domestic violence as the immediate cause of their homelessness. More recent analysis is even more sobering: according to the California Policy Lab’s “Health Conditions Among Unsheltered Adults in the U.S.” report, 80% of unsheltered women reported that experiences with abuse and trauma caused their current homelessness.
If there is one thing we should all be able to agree on, it is the need for federal policies that protect families from domestic violence. And yet, three pending policies priorities will do the exact opposite: they will make domestic violence survivors even more vulnerable.
Mixed-Status Family Rule
On May 10, 2019, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released a proposed rule titled “Housing and Community Development Act of 1980: Verification of Eligible Status.” The rule would restrict eligibility for federal housing assistance based on immigration status, and prohibit “mixed-status” families households (those comprised of members who have eligible and ineligible immigration statuses) from living in units subsidized by federal housing programs, including public housing and Section 8. Under current federal law, these families are permitted to live together in a subsidized unit, so long as there is at least one U.S. citizen or eligible immigrant living in the unit.
Impact on Survivors
Certain immigrant survivors of gender-based violence such as human trafficking, sexual assault, and domestic violence will likely be impacted by HUD’s “mixed-status” rule. Safe, affordable housing is critical to a survivor’s ability to flee from violence. If the proposed rule goes into effect, ineligible survivors and their eligible children who are trying to escape abuse would lose their homes and possibly return to abusive situations or face homelessness if no other affordable options are available to them.
Public Charge Rule
The Rule on Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds, or the “Public Charge Rule,” makes it easier for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to classify certain immigrants as a “public charge,” which can result in them being denied admission into the country or prevent them from receiving a green card. Factors such as income, education, and the use of public benefits, such as Medicaid, could all impact an immigrant’s rating under this rule.
UPDATE: On Oct. 11th Three federal courts temporarily blocked this rule from going into effect.
Impact on Survivors
While the Violence Against Women Act provides statutory exclusions for self-petitioners and those applying for U visas, not all survivors and their families will benefit from these protections. Many are applying through other application processes. As a result, many survivors and their family members would have to overcome a “public charge determination” to get the help their family needs.
The uncertainty created by the new public charge rule has already caused a “chilling effect”: victims, faced with the fear of losing their benefits, are choosing not to report abuse and violence, and instead staying with an abusive partner or family member.
It is critical to note that basic public benefits can be a safety net and a lifeline for domestic violence survivors. Indeed, research shows that physical and psychological violence go hand in hand with economic dependence, as perpetrators often exercise their power by preventing victims from driving a car, pursuing education or keeping a job. The denial of public benefits to this population only strengthens the abuser’s power.
Disparate Impact Rule
HUD recently proposed a rule that would gut a long-standing civil rights protection called “disparate impact theory” under the Fair Housing Act.
Disparate impact allows people to challenge housing policies or practices that have a discriminatory impact on them because of their race, color, national origin, sex, familial status, disability, or religion – even if the policy or practice appears on its face to apply to everyone equally.
HUD’s proposed rule would drastically increase the burden of proof for victims of discrimination, and provides new defenses that could shield housing providers, governments, and corporations from being held accountable for discriminatory policies.
Impact on Survivors
Without current protections, a landlord could evict victims of domestic violence based on common leases that hold all tenants, even victims, responsible for crimes in their homes. This would place women, the primary victims of domestic abuse, and their children at risk of homelessness and further violence. Under the proposed rule, landlords could prohibit renting to families with children all together or only allow occupancy in more expensive units.
What You Can Do
There is a very short window of time left to submit comments in opposition to the Disparate Impact Rule. Comments are due by October 18th. We encourage all advocates to please use the easy tools available at https://www.fightforhousingjustice.org/ to register your opposition to this harmful proposal.
Laws, regulations, and policy should give additional support to women and families affected by violence. Remain vigilant of policies that have an adverse effect and oppose any rules that do not keep women and families safe.