State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) has introduced a bill that, if passed, will make it easier for victims of domestic abuse to seek shelter, break their ties with their abusers and begin new lives.
The bill itself, S7851, features powerful language — “The New York City Housing Authority’s N-1 Priority Housing program is intended to provide permanent housing for those individuals in the most serious and imminent danger of repeated abuse. Unfortunately, the existing documentation requirements for entry into the program shut out many individuals who are most in need and serve to create a perverse incentive where victims must put themselves back into harm’s way in order to qualify.”
Peralta’s measure aims to solve this problem by easing the NYCHA’s restrictive standards for granting housing to domestic abuse victims.
“We’ve been talking to [Peralta] and his staff about the realities on the ground,” said Catherine Trapani. Trapani is the director of the housing link program at New Destiny Housing, an organization dedicated to finding victims of domestic abuse and violence new homes.
One of the greatest problems facing victims, according to Trapani, is the difficulty of finding permanent residence away from their abusers.
Victims may gain access to emergency housing for up to 135 days after an incident. After the 135 days, however, if victims have no new residence, they must return to their abusive households.
Tobi Erner, a social worker at Queens Legal Services’ Domestic Violence Law and Advocacy Project, explained some of the problems with this solution. “Due to the scarcity of transitional housing, the massive cuts to subsidy programs, the outrageous costs of renting in NYC, compounded with the difficulty in accessing DV Priority through NYCHA,” she said in an email, “many survivors are faced with no alternative but to return to their abuser at the expiration of their emergency shelter stay.”
Victims may seek permanent housing to escape domestic abuse, but current law requires that they submit two documented cases of domestic abuse to receive priority housing. Appropriate documents include police reports or hospital records, which Trapani said are difficult or impossible for many victims to obtain.
“It’s extremely unsafe for many victims to call the police,” she explained. “The penalties aren’t very strong. Often the abuser is back at the apartment the next day and punishing the victim.”
“I have worked with clients who have been strangled, punched in the stomach while pregnant, raped and have even had guns held to their head,” Erner explained, “yet they never filed reports because their batterer had threatened them with further violence or even death.”
“By requiring that survivors demonstrate not just one, but multiple interactions with the legal system as a precondition to accessing safe housing [as the current NYCHA protocol necessitates],” said Erner, the system exposes victims to undue risk.
Peralta’s bill proposes a new standard for achieving permanent housing similar to the one used now in emergency shelter housing. When victims enter emergency shelter housing, a social worker must affirm that they suffered domestic abuse.
The measure would ensure that a similar process, carried out by both victim and social worker, will be used to confirm the occurrence of domestic abuse and to make the victim eligible for housing. “Without a safe, permanent home, the chances to break ties with an abuser are extremely limited,” said Trapani.
Frank Sobrino, a press representative for Peralta, said that Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) sponsored the bill in the Assembly, but that it may not see any action until the next legislative session in January.
According to a study that Trapani said would be published at the end of the month, 72 percent of residents in emergency shelters do not meet the NYCHA cutoff for need-based permanent housing — meaning that they will not be eligible for permanent need-based housing until they are abused at least once more.
“If the state is funding these shelters and letting professionals sign sworn affidavits saying that these people are endangered by domestic abuse, then that should be enough,” argued Trapani. “Why can’t that count for permanent housing?”