2013 is barely started, and already it's been a tough few days for those of us who care about issues of sexual violence. But there was a bright spot in Massachusetts today as Governor Deval Patrick signed a new bill into law. The bill, S. 2402, is An Act Relative to Housing Rights for Victims of Domestic Violence, Rape, Sexual Assault, and Stalking provides important and incredibly meaningful protections to survivors.
One thing we've heard from survivors for years is how important having safe, stable housing is to their healing. Indeed, new research bears out that this is true even at a physiological level.
In situations where survivors have had to leave their homes, they've often run into financial and legal barriers, even when staying in their home has proven to be unsafe. Many survivors have also faced discrimination from prospective landlords when the landlord found out about abuse or violence in the past. This bill provides survivors with rights and protections while also protecting the rights of property owners. A few key components of the bill include:
- allowing survivors to terminate a lease early without a financial penalty if it's no longer safe to stay in their current home following violence.
- protection from discrimination in future housing if they have experienced violence or abuse.
- a provision that allows survivors to have their locks changed to increase safety.
Two BARCC staff--Director of Client Services and Advocacy Stephanie DeCandia and Senior Case Manager Clare Namugga--have worked tirelessly for several years to translate the experiences and needs of BARCC's clients into concrete provisions and legislative energy around this bill.
There are a number of MA legislators and officials who deserve thanks, and you can use the links to contact them:
- Governor Deval Patrick, for signing the bill into law
- Lt. Governor Timothy Murray, chair of both the Governor's Councl to Address Sexual and Domestic Violence and the Interagency Council on Housing and Homelessness, for his leadership on the issue of housing remedies for survivors.
- Senator Cynthia Stone Creem and Representative Ellen Story, the bill's lead sponsors for their unwavering efforts on the bill's passage.
- Senate Co-Sponors Senators Sal DiDomenico, James Eldridge, and Pat Jehlen, as well as former Senator Susan Fargo. (On July 30, 2011 the Senate voted unanimously to engross the bill, so even if your Senator isn’t a listed co-sponsor, please take the time to thank them for their support.)
- House Co-Sponsors Representatives Denise Andrews, Ruth Balser, Jennifer Benson, Gloria Fox, Carlos Henriquez, John Keenan, Kay Khan, Liz Malia, Aaron Michlewitz, James O'Day, Frank Smizik, Benjamin Swan, Timothy Toomey, (now-Senator) Linda Dorcena Forry, and former Representatives John Fresolo, David Sullivan, Marty Walz, and Alice Wolf.
- Senate President Therese Murray, Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo, and Representative Kevin Honan.
- Sheridan Haines, Executive Director of the Governor's Council to Address Sexual and Domestic Violence for her many years of work and advocacy on behalf of survivors.
This law would not exist without the generous and invaluable contributions of several staff from Greater Boston Legal Services in particular Barbara Zimbel and Linda Garcia.
As with much of our work, we are stronger when we work in collaboration with those who share our concerns and purpose. The passage of this bill was also the work of a dedicated group of advocates and community partners in the Safe Communities Coalition. In addition to BARCC, that coalition includes: AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts; ACLU of Massachusetts; the Gay Men's Domestic Violence Program; HEARTH; Homes for Families; HomeStart; Jane Doe, Inc.; Massachusetts Citizens for Children; MA Commission on the Status of Women; Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (MSPCC); Mass Union of Public Housing Tenants; On the Rise; UAW Regional CAP; the Victim Rights Law Center; and the Women's Bar Association of Massachusetts.
Please note: We've updated this post with the names of all the MA legislators who supported this bill. If your legislator is one of them, please take some time to thank them for their support.