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Your Housing Rights as a Survivor of Sexual Violence Living in Federally Assisted Housing

Keys being handed to a couple

This is the second of two blog posts that explain a few housing law protections for survivors of sexual violence and how BARCC case managers can assist survivors in advocating for their rights under these laws.

In the last post, we talked about what protections are available to people who live in market rent, private, and state public and subsidized housing in Massachusetts. But what about folks living in federally funded housing?

People who live in federally funded housing, such as Section 8 and public housing that receives federal funds, have some housing protections under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), and despite the name, the act protects people of all genders. VAWA protects survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. That means if you’re in federally assisted housing, and you feel unsafe at home due to ongoing domestic violence, dating violence, sexual abuse or assault, or stalking, or the threat of any of the above, you may be eligible for these protections.

The National Housing Law Project lists three ways in which VAWA offers protections:

  1. You can’t be denied admission or federal rental assistance just because you are or have been a victim or a threatened victim.  
  2. You can’t be evicted or lose your federal rental assistance just because you are or have been a victim or a threatened victim.  
  3. You can’t be denied admission or rental assistance, evicted, or lose your subsidy on the basis of domestic and/or sexual violence.

BARCC Case Manager Becca Britton-Anastas said she most often assists survivors in navigating emergency transfers under VAWA. An emergency transfer means that a person in federally assisted housing can move to a different unit in another area managed by the same organization for reasons related to the abuse and keep their subsidy, even if their lease hasn’t ended. BARCC Senior Case Manager Clare Namugga noted that the survivor may not get a new unit right away, just when one is available.

The law also enables landlords to evict an ongoing abuser, while letting the rest of the family stay: “If the family is in public housing and there is domestic or sexual violence, then VAWA would allow for the perpetrator to be evicted. The remaining family members could stay and continue receiving the rental assistance” said Becca.  

In order to use VAWA protections, the housing authority or a landlord might ask survivors for documentation showing that they’re a survivor of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking. According to the National Housing Law Project, the housing authority or landlord must make this request in writing, and survivors can prove their circumstances by one of the following ways:

  1. Complete a self-certification form, provided by the housing authority or a legal aid office. The form asks for your name; the name of your abuser if it’s known and safe to provide; the abuser’s relationship to you; the date, time, and place of violence; and a description of the violence.
  2. Survivors can provide a letter signed by a victim service provider (such as a domestic or sexual violence counselor), attorney, or a medical or mental health professional who has assisted you with the abuse. The survivor must sign the letter.
  3. A police report, court record (like a protective or restraining order), or an administrative record such as a DFC report.

Scenario

Valerie* was sexually assaulted by her neighbor in her federally funded elderly/disabled apartment building. She was on the transfer list for individuals with disabilities and was told it would take one to two years.

Valerie reached out to BARCC’s Case Management program for help leaving her apartment in a shorter time span. Valerie had been sent the HUD certification of domestic violence, dating violence, or sexual assault. Case Management staff explained transfer options and limits and what the certification was for. Valerie was concerned that being on this transfer list could mean she would be given housing that would not be accomodating for her disability. Valerie submitted the self-certification form, and Case Management staff spoke to the housing authority case worker to confirm that Valerie would be transferred to another handicapped accessible development. Valerie was able to move within the next month and apply for financial assistance for help with moving expenses.

*Names have been changed to protect confidentiality.

Read more about this housing law, or request an appointment with BARCC Case Management online or by calling 617-492-8306.

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Posted by Taylor Rapalyea

Taylor Rapalyea
Taylor Rapalyea serves as BARCC's marketing and communications coordinator. She helps implement communications plans, creates content, and provides support for organizational communications, all to further public knowledge of BARCC's mission and services. Taylor brings four years of local news reporting and editing to BARCC, and has worked at Patch News, the Salem News, and the Gloucester Daily Times. She learned video reporting and editing at the Boston Herald, and served as editor of the Simmons Voice while studying journalism and public relations at Simmons College.

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