“On a dreary, cold day in a small Florida town, there was a gruesome discovery in a local apartment complex. Four bodies were found: 19-year-old Athenia Daniel Baker, and her three sons, Amad, Amarion, and Aaron. None [of the children] reached their fourth birthday.”
“Eyewitnesses describe chaos as officers arrived and gunfire began. A law enforcement helicopter circled above, ordering people to stay in their homes as residents scrambled for cover at a Georgia apartment complex and the business next door."
“For the second time in two days, a woman was murdered, allegedly at the hands of her boyfriend. Police arrested the shooter, who killed his live-in girlfriend in their northeast Houston apartment.”
Those of us in the affordable housing industry are acutely aware of new stories such as those above. I think it is safe to say that anyone who has had any experience at all working in this field has had to deal with domestic violence issues within their communities. Domestic violence cuts across all socioeconomic classes, affects one out of every three women, and is the third-leading cause of homelessness among families in this country.(1) In fact, the U.S. has the highest rate of domestic violence homicide of any industrial country.(2)
Congress has long been aware that women and families have been discriminated against, denied access to housing, and even evicted from housing because they are victims of domestic violence. In an effort to combat the epidemic of domestic violence and to afford survivors with some protection, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was signed into law in 1994. This was the first major law designed to help government agencies and victim advocates work together to fight domestic violence, sexual assault and other types of violence against women.
The Violence Against Women Act was reauthorized with additional protections in 2000, 2005 and 2013. The 2013 reauthorization closed critical gaps in protection expanding protection for immigrants, LGBT victims, Native American women, college students and youth, public housing residents and residents of all federally subsidized housing, including LIHTC and HOME properties. In spite of its name, VAWA does not protect women only. It also provides the same protections to men who are abused by an intimate partner.
VAWA prohibits denying housing to applicants solely because they are victims of domestic violence. It also prohibits evicting residents who are victims of domestic violence, dating violence or stalking based on acts or threats of violence committed against the victim. Until a few years ago – thanks, in part, to HUD’s 2001 “One Strike” ruling – victims who lived in federally assisted low-income housing would automatically receive an eviction notice if they called police to report being terrorized, injured or stalked by their abuser. This placed women in the position of endangering themselves and their children further as they hesitated to call for assistance from law enforcement, knowing they could be evicted for seeking protection.
VAWA not only protects survivors of domestic violence from eviction, but it also provides funding and a variety of services for victims of domestic violence, including but not limited to:
- Grants to encourage arrest policies and enforcement of protection orders
- Legal assistance for victims
- Consolidation of grants to support families in the justice system
- Outreach and services to underserved populations
- Programs to meet the needs of immigrant women and women of different races or ethnicities
- Programs and Services for victims with disabilities
- Services for children and teens (11-24 years of age) (3)
It is well documented that women are overwhelmingly the
victims of domestic violence. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice
Statistics, 85% of victims of domestic violence are women. Based on these
statistics, discrimination against victims of domestic violence is almost
always discrimination against women. This, in addition to certain other
protected classes experiencing disproportionately high levels of domestic
violence, means that survivors of domestic violence who are denied housing,
evicted or deprived of assistance based on the violence in their homes may have
a cause for action under the Fair Housing Act due to sex, race or national
origin discrimination. (4)
While HUD issued a notice about VAWA 2013 changes, it has not issued any new regulations pertaining to the changes. With little or no guidance from HUD, local Housing Finance Agencies or the IRS, the responsibility for upholding the safe housing provisions offered under VAWA falls squarely on owners and affordable housing providers. While the housing credit industry is awaiting more guidance, it is up to owners and management companies to understand the scope and intent of the law, to educate and inform residents of the law, and to implement strategies that recognize and protect residents who are victims of domestic violence. It is imperative that owners develop a process that ensures they are complying with VAWA requirements in order to protect survivors of domestic violence and to reduce liability of landlords and management companies.
What can you do, as an owner or manager, to be in compliance with VAWA requirements? Until further guidance is received, Royal American Management, Inc. (RAM), has developed and implemented its own procedures designed to protect survivors of domestic violence, comply with VAWA, and reduce the liability of owners. These procedures can be used as a guide to assist in developing Safe Housing Plans at federally subsidized housing communities, including those with tax credit and HOME funding.
RAM VAWA Procedures & Resident Safety Plan
Be Sure Management
Staff Is Aware of VAWA Requirements
All management staff should be educated regarding VAWA requirements, the responsibilities of the owner and management to support and protect the rights of survivors of domestic violence and the possible liability to the landlord if VAWA requirements are not followed. At no time, for any reason, a resident’s right to call law enforcement for emergency assistance be limited in any way. Management staff should fully inform residents of their rights and obligations at the time of lease signing and during the application process.
Provide Safe Housing
The owner has a responsibility to take reasonable precautions to protect residents from foreseeable criminal assaults. This varies from state to state and jurisdiction to jurisdiction, so it is up to owners to be sure they are aware of applicable state and local laws regarding reasonable precautions. Examples of reasonable precautions include making sure available lighting is adequate and in working condition, locks to all common areas and units are adequate and properly functioning, and existing security camera are in working order.
Owners also should have a policy in place expediting lock changes for victims of domestic violence or, when available, transfer policies that allow the victim to move to another property in a different location.
Incorporate VAWA Protections into Resident Selection Criteria
Owners should have written public Resident Selection Criteria that incorporates VAWA protections and owner, manager, and resident responsibilities regarding VAWA.
All information provided to an owner or manager relating to incidents of domestic violence must be kept in confidence and cannot be entered into any shared database or provided to a related entity, except to the extent that:
- The disclosure is requested or consented by the individual in writing
- The information is required for use in an eviction proceeding, termination of assistance or otherwise required by applicable law.
The HUD-approved certification form provides notice to the tenant of the confidentiality of the form and the limits thereof.
VAWA requires that leases be bifurcated, allowing eviction or termination of assistance for the abuser, while allowing the victim to stay in the unit.
Applicants/residents must be notified of their rights to and limits of confidentiality and their rights under VAWA at denial of residency, move-in and when notification is given of eviction or termination of assistance.
Owners and managers may want to establish a policy allowing victims of
domestic violence who choose to move to escape their abuser to get out of their
leases without penalty.
HUD* form 91067
At initial move-in, all adult applicants must complete HUD form 91067 (attached), which informs residents of the safe housing protections available to them under VAWA. In summary, this form notifies residents that an incident or incidents of actual or threatened domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking will not be construed as a serious or repeated violation of the lease by the victim or threatened victim of that violence, and shall not be good cause for terminating the victim’s tenancy or rental assistance.(5)
*It should be noted that when completing the victim Certification Form, the person claiming victim status is not required to provide the abuser’s name if unknown, or if doing so would place the victim in further danger.
Certification of Establishing Victim Status
If a household invokes the protection of VAWA, documentation is requested by management. Management must allow the resident 14 days to provide the documentation but may allow more time at their discretion.
Acceptable documentation includes one or more of the following:
- HUD form 91066 (attached)
- A federal, state, tribal, territorial, law enforcement agency, court or administrative agency record
- Document signed by the victim and a qualified third party
Qualified third parties include an employee, agent or volunteer of a victim service provider, attorneys, or medical professionals treating the victim because of violence. Documentation must indicate that under penalty of perjury, the third party believes that the person is a victim of domestic violence as defined under VAWA.
A written statement by an applicant/tenant can be accepted at the discretion of management.
Section 8 Residents
Residents with Section 8 assistance who are invoking VAWA in order to keep from being evicted should notify the applicable Public Housing Authority (PHA) immediately if the abuser is also a member of the household and needs to be removed from the voucher. They may also go to the PHA and request an emergency transfer voucher.
You can evict a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking if you can demonstrate that there is an actual or imminent (immediate) threat to other tenants or employees at the property if the victim is not evicted. This threat must be clearly established, with documentation verifying that there is an actual or imminent threat to other residents and/or employees at the property. Legal counsel should always be consulted in these instances.
Also, you may evict a victim for serious or repeated lease violations that are not related to the domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking. You cannot hold a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking to a more demanding standard that tenants who are not victims.
In spite of VAWA being signed into law more than 20 years ago, numerous residents continue to be evicted illegally who could qualify for the protections offered by this Act. Thanks to legal representation afforded to victims under VAWA, victims’ rights have been upheld by courts in many instances and landlords have been held financially responsible for these violations.
On average, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States — more than 12 million women and men over the course of a year.(6) Domestic violence has no boundaries — it affects women of all ages, races, income levels and educational levels. It is likely that you know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence or that you have experienced domestic violence first-hand. There are resources available for people who need help and, as /managers, we have a moral and legal obligation to do what we can to assist victims and reduce incidents of domestic violence in our communities.
These websites have additional information regarding VAWA and Domestic Violence:
- The Shriver Brief: Poverty Law Commentary & Insights: Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law: Affordable Housing, Healthcare reform http://www.theshriverbrief.org/tags/eviction/
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline: http://www.thehotline.org/resources/victims-and-survivors/#tab-id-2. This site has numerous resources for advocates and victims of domestic violence
- The HUD Exchange: https://www.hudexchange.info/news/hud-publishes-new-proposed-rule-violence-against-women-reauthorization-act-of-2013-implementation-in-hud-housing-programs/
Wendi Le Mense, HCCP®, C13P® is the vice president, Compliance and Resident Relations, for Royal American Management, Inc. She is responsible for assuring that Housing Credit communities comply with all IRS and State Housing Agencies’ policies and regulations and LURA requirements. She is certified in Housing Credit Management and oversees compliance, reporting, and training requirements for 100+ RAM-managed Housing Credit communities, many with multiple funding sources and multiple program requirements. She supervises numerous RAM Compliance Specialist located in multiple RAM Regional Offices.
She also is responsible for oversight of One on One, One by One, an innovative grant-funded program managed by RAM, dedicated to assisting families and individuals in their efforts to move from unemployed or underemployed to securing jobs that will enable them to become self-sufficient. The program's services include transportation, counseling, career training, and assistance with obtaining subsidized child care, uniforms (if needed) and various other support services. The program, which initially started with a little more than $100,000 in grant money, now employees 14- 17 people and has received as much as $1.2 million in funding every year for the last 15-plus years.
Le Mesne began working with RAM in 1995. Previously, she worked nine years — seven as a supervisor — with the Florida Department of Children and Families in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Programs, Nutritional Assistance Programs, and Medicaid Health Care Programs. These positions gave her experience in interpreting, training, and assuring compliance with complex government policies and regulations. She holds an AA in Mass Communication, is a designated Certified Credit Compliance Professional (C13P®), and an HCCP®. She previously sat on the HCCP Board of Governors and serves as the Chair of the HCCP Board Professional Development Subcommittee in association with the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).
(1) National Coalition for Homelessness, Huffington Post, 30 Shocking Domestic Violence Statistics that Remind Us it’s an Epidemic. Posted 10/23/14; Updated 2/13/15; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/23/domestic-violence-statistics_n_5959776.html
(3) National Network to End Domestic Violence,The Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization of 2013, Summary of Changes
(5) 1437d(l)(5)(public housing), 1437f(c)(9)(B)(project-based Section 8). 1437f(o)(20)(C) (Section 8 voucher);24 C.F.R. 5.2005(a).
(6) The National Domestic Violence Hotline, viewed 8/15/15, http://www.thehotline.org/resources/statistics/?gclid=Cj0KEQjwmNuuBRDTu5rDjr2kxJsBEiQAWlm6Us17ZrG7THUfYkLZl7nx6Zs8tAIoU874lL5vWnrL0lcaAjCY8P8HAQ