Home Alone: Housing Scarcity is Nothing New to Domestic Violence Advocates in San Francisco

San Francisco is an expensive city to live in. It has been at the top of the lists for cost of living for a long time, but recently, things seem to be getting out of hand. Between the use of the Ellis Act to evict large blocks of tenants, to tenant’s rights protests outside of city offices and protests against the big white ghost ships of tech companies that transport their employees down the Peninsula, finding affordable housing in San Francisco has become a real problem.

Articles about recent housing conflicts:

For survivors of domestic violence, housing is and has always been a complicated issue. The recent housing trouble in San Francisco, for Housing and Domestic Violence advocates, is just a continuation of the challenges survivors face for a number of reasons.

According to Monica McLaughlin from the National Network to End Domestic Violence, many survivors in an abusive situation are victims of financial abuse that can be detrimental to finding housing. Little or no credit and rental history, complaints or eviction from previous rental situations due to violence can all be serious barriers to finding a new rental situation. Financial independence is a determining factor in accessing resources such as housing, counseling and legal advice. Leaving an abusive relationship, even if a survivor does not relocate to a new city or region, is a new start. But starting over can be incredibly hard to do, especially with limited financial support. Faced with the options of turning to family, shelters, transitional housing and federally subsidized housing (section 8 public housing), a majority of survivors go from an abusive personal relationship into being revictimized by the limitations of the housing system.

Did you know:

There are less than 100 beds in San Francisco dedicated to serving the emergency needs for Domestic Violence?

In 1994 the  Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) passed as the first legislation to address the housing problems involved in relocation for survivors. The 2005 and 2013 re-drafts include additional, important provisions addressing housing rights. Evictions and refusal to grant a rental lease because of a renter’s record associated with violence, prior eviction or property damage are an endemic problem for survivors looking for housing. The new additions stop arbitrary evictions related to rental history, as well as property damage due to a domestic dispute if the renter holds a restraining order against the perpetrator. Additionally, breaking a lease due to documented domestic violence cannot be used against a survivor seeking a new lease and the penalties are mitigated, as well.

A new law in California, SB 612 (2012/2013), was implemented in January 2013. Beyond securing leases, it expands the acceptable documentation of abuse beyond restraining orders. Allowing documentation from a broader expanse of case-worker documentation, alternative to a restraining order, acknowledges the diversity of survivor’s individual situations and stories and use of the legal system.

Even though VAWA and advocates are able to address some of the complexities involved in the housing issues facing survivors of domestic violence, the system’s capacity to handle the volume of people and families currently in need of housing both regionally and nationally is limited. In general, families that satisfy the income levels to be considered for low income housing cannot afford a 1 bedroom apartment anywhere in the US, much less the Bay Area. With the limited availability of affordable housing through section 8 and subsidies, many families run out of time to use their vouchers simply because the waiting list is too long. Along with cuts to affordable housing, many of the granted vouchers cannot be fulfilled, leaving sensitive populations out in the cold. Survivors of domestic violence, who may be relocating with their children, find themselves without affordable options, much less safe options.

Did you know:

Over 50% of the emergency shelter beds in safe, undisclosed locations within San Francisco are taken by children of survivors.

What can Housing Advocacy do?

1. The issue of safety and affordable housing is one particular to survivors of Domestic Violence that is the most difficult for traditional models to address. In an effort to provide for the particular needs of survivors for both safe shelter and emotional support, many Domestic Violence shelters either work with or have additional programs in transitional housing. The DVIRC Project brings together providers so counselors and shelters have up to date information on open beds and available resources. For example, organizations like The Riley Center in the Bay Area, work with W.O.M.A.N., Inc. to provide both safe emergency shelter and permanent housing programs.

2. VAWA’s attempts to mitigate lease refusal and evictions are only effective if both renters and landlords are aware of them. Organizations like the National Housing Law Project work to provide the legal and education support that both survivors and landlords need to implement the VAWA provisions. Helping survivors find legal advice empowers them to keep the housing they have or find a lease in a new place where they choose to live.

3. Volunteering or becoming a donor to the non-profit organizations that support survivors extends the ability to educate, support and empower survivors of domestic violence and make sure the policies surrounding affordable housing address their needs. Achieving safety, stability and financial independence requires a diverse, varied set of resources in different languages and a responsive network of support.

4. Get family and friends involved. Soon, there might even be an app. so they can donate a night in a safe hotel to survivors in need of emergency shelter (spoiler alert!). Many times when survivors need a place to stay, they need to rely on their family and friends for both support and safety. If they do not have a safe place to stay and the emergency services are unavailable, family and friends can be a life-line.

By Erin Durkee, WI Social Media Volunteer

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