Domestic violence is increasing in New York’s public housing, and it is putting people out on the streets. Over a quarter of the families who are in homeless shelters have cited domestic abuse as a cause, showing that many victims would rather be homeless than suffer the torment of their abusers. While it would be optimal for alternate housing to be available to those who have been domestically abused, this is not possible given current resource constraints. In response to this issue, Mayor Bill de Blasio has started a subsidy program to move victims out of shelters and to improve counseling at public housing. Without the sufficient housing to completely eliminate the problem, de Blasio is taking the best steps possible to address the situation.
From 2009 to 2013, domestic violence-related crimes increased by 25 percent in New York City, doubling domestic violence incidents in public housing. While domestic violence victims are placed on a priority waiting list for public housing, people on waiting lists can far outnumber available housing. Even when housing is available, domestic violence victims can find it more difficult to secure. According to a 2011 report, 27.5 percent of New York City housing providers either outright refused or failed to follow up with survivors of domestic violence.
Many landlords use one-strike policies, in which tenants can be evicted for any violent incident occurring in their apartment, whether or not they are the perpetrator. One study found that 11.1 percent of all evictions were based solely on a woman’s status as a survivor of domestic violence. The immediate reaction to claims of homelessness springing from domestic violence is to evict the abusers instead, which ignores the fact that domestic violence often goes unreported, with 45 percent of incidents never reaching the police.
Tackling domestic abuse is difficult because many of the methods used to fight homelessness are not applicable. If individuals cannot afford their rent, a subsidy can keep them in their home. The same cannot be said of domestic abuse victims. In addition, many victims cannot live in the same area as their abusers, which can severely restrict the viable apartment options.
The new rent subsidy program should provide permanent housing for 1,900 abused and homeless families. In addition, the requirements for documented proof of abuse will be more lenient, making it easier for families to qualify for expedited housing. Furthermore, public housing employees are being trained to detect domestic abuse. While it may take a while for the city to see the effects of this training, it starts to tackle the problem at its source. Even though the city’s response does not provide for every family suffering from domestic abuse, these are positive steps attained with limited resources.
A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Nov. 12 print edition. Email the WSN Editorial Board at [email protected]