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Federal Protections Help Increase Survivors' Housing Options

Survivors of domestic and sexual violence are at high risk for experiencing housing instability. Each year MCADSV member programs report increases in unmet requests for emergency shelter, and longer stays for people who are in shelter. Survivors face a variety of barriers when they lack stable housing, and need a range of housing options. Yet domestic and sexual violence programs adding more emergency shelter bed space is not the answer; doing so fails to recognize that emergency shelter might not be the only solution for every survivor. Understanding rights under federal law and guidance can help survivors navigate their housing options.

The federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) includes public housing protections for victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. Housing protections originally included in 2005, and expanded in 2013, made public housing protections more consistent.

Public housing authorities, owners, landlords and managers participating in Section 8 or Housing Choice voucher programs, low-income housing tax credit programs, supportive housing for elderly and disabled individuals, and several other public housing programs must comply with this guidance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Additional guidance from HUD prohibits eviction and termination of a lease due to a tenant experiencing domestic violence, sexual violence and/or stalking, and requires landlords to maintain survivor-tenant confidentiality. It also continues to prohibit survivors of domestic and/or sexual violence from being denied housing assistance or occupancy rights based solely on criminal activity resulting from the violence committed against them. The Missouri Housing Development Committee has developed guidance for property managers on VAWA 2013 compliance.

The Civil Rights Division in the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced in October 2017 the Sexual Harassment Initiative. The initiative specifically seeks to increase the Department’s efforts to protect individuals from harassment by landlords, property managers, maintenance workers, security guards, and other employees of rental property owners. This initiative builds on the federal Fair Housing Act, prohibiting discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status.

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