What the next mayor of New York can do for domestic violence victims
Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has long promised to work for more affordable housing.
Advocates hope that under the incoming administration, the housing situation might improve for one particularly vulnerable population: domestic violence victims.
A recent report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found that while homelessness is down 4 percent nationally, it’s up 13 percent in New York City. Families largely drive that increase, according to HUD.
Advocates note that with domestic violence victims comprising one-third of the families in all family shelters citywide, it stands to reason there is an increase in that specific segment of the population as well.The shelter system is particularly untenable for domestic violence survivors, who are limited to six-month stays in emergency domestic violence shelters due to restrictions laid out by the New York State Office of Children and Family Services, which funds such Human Resources Administration facilities in the city.
Carol Corden, the executive director at New Destiny Housing, says part of the problem lies with a dearth of housing set aside for domestic violence victims. Out of 28,000 total units of supportive housing in the city, fewer than 100 units are set aside for domestic violence survivors, she said.
In particular, Corden and her colleagues are looking to establish more supportive housing: facilities that include services onsite, such as counselors who can assist with emotional support and seeking employment opportunities to gain independence. Becoming financially independent is a hurdle for victims who had been dependent on their abusers.
One of the major problems Corden highlighted is the criteria that domestic violence victims are required to meet in order to qualify for priority public housing.
In order to get on the domestic violence victim priority list for NYCHA housing, an applicant must have documentation proving they have been a victim of violence not only once but twice over the course of a two-year period. If the assault is a felony assault — charges like rape, strangulation, stalking in the first degree and attempted murder — having only one documented instance is acceptable.
The domestic violence priority criteria assumes people will reach out to the police and try to get help, Corden pointed out. But in fact, that’s generally not the case.
“If you look at the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence, one of the striking statistics is over 70 percent of the fatalities that result from domestic violence had absolutely no contact with the NYPD,” she said.
And Corden said her team at New Destiny Housing found that over 70 percent of the people actually using domestic violence shelters can’t meet the criteria for the domestic violence eligibility for public housing and Section 8.
“We’d really like NYCHA to look at that, and look at the actual situation of domestic violence survivors who are actually in life-threatening situations,” she said.
What the next mayor can do
Minimum cost: Measures that require the least possible amount of resources and funding.
• Streamlining the criteria to qualify for NYCHA priority and expediting the application process for NYCHA.
Corden and her fellow advocates also want domestic violence victims’ applications to be flagged, at least in part because of the short-term limitations of their stays in emergency shelters. ”What we’re concerned about is if people leave shelters without housing, they’ll go to an unsafe situation,” Corden said, noting that it’s not unusual for victims in that position to return to their abusers.
• Allow resources held by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development set aside for the homeless to be used for domestic violence survivors.
• Invest in supportive housing, which Corden said is cost effective because the services provided help victims remain stable in permanent housing. ”If you can keep people stable in permanent housing, it costs less than if they’re cycling in and out of the homeless system,” she explained.
New initiatives: Innovative measures that require a greater commitment but ultimately, Corden said, will have more lasting positive consequences.
• Rapid Rehousing Program: Some of the best resources available for domestic violence survivors are out of the Family Justice Centers established in the District Attorney’s Offices in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. Construction is almost finished on a new one at the Manhattan DA’s Office.
Corden praised these facilities as “one-stop shops where people can get access to services while their cases are being prosecuted,” but said, “We feel one of the missing services is family housing.”
In other cities such as Portland, Ore., Corden said, Rapid Rehousing Programs, which focus on getting people in crisis into stable housing before working with them on other needs, have proven so effective, shelter programs have been eliminated.
• Facilitating a clearer linkage of shelter residents to existing affordable housing.
Follow Danielle Tcholakian on Twitter @danielleiat