Statement on the Introduction of the Housing Rights for Victims of Domestic and Sexual Violence Act
Mr. President, nobody should have to choose between safety and shelter. Yet 48 percent of homeless women in Minnesota previously had stayed in abusive situations because they did not have safe housing options available to them. Twenty-nine percent of homeless adult women in my state are fleeing domestic violence, and more than half of those women are living with children. That simply is not acceptable.
This problem is not unique to Minnesota. Far from it. National studies establish an undeniable link between homelessness and domestic and sexual violence. By one account, two in five women who experience domestic violence will become homeless at some point in their lives.
Not surprisingly, once a woman becomes homeless, she becomes vulnerable to further violence and exploitation. In fact, nine in ten homeless women have experienced severe physical or sexual abuse. During a hearing last week, the Executive Director of the Minnesota Indian Women's Resource Center explained that perpetrators of sexual violence often pray on homeless women.
Of course, we all know that this problem is not about statistics. It is about the real people with real stories who are behind the numbers. It is about the woman in California who was evicted for "causing a nuisance" after the police responded to an incident of domestic violence in her Low Income Housing Tax Credit unit-where she was the victim.
It is about the mother of five in Florida who received a termination notice after her ex-husband broke down her door and assaulted her. And it is about the 83-year-old woman in Minnesota who was threatened with eviction from her Section 202 housing unit because of disturbances caused by her abuser.
Though the link between homelessness and domestic and sexual violence is undeniable, it is not unbreakable. Advocates across the country work tirelessly to ensure that victims of domestic and sexual violence have the shelter and support they need. Local law enforcement officials and prosecutors are dedicated to ending the cycle of abuse and homelessness. Property owners, too, often work with victims, advocates, and local authorities to find solutions to the problem.
And here in Congress, we've made efforts to break the link between domestic and sexual violence and homelessness as well. The 2005 Violence Against Women Act included important protections that made it unlawful to deny someone housing assistance under certain federal programs just because the individual is a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking. From conversations with experts in Minnesota, I know that those protections have been invaluable.
The Violence Against Women Act is now up for reauthorization. That occasion provides us an opportunity to build on the successes of the 2005 bill and to address its shortcomings. That's why today I've introduced the Housing Rights for Victims of Domestic and Sexual Violence Act. This bill is for every woman who has hesitated to call the police to enforce a protective order because she was afraid that she'd be evicted if she did so. The bill rests on the simple premise that a woman should not lose her home just because she is a victim of domestic or sexual violence.
The Violence Against Women Act currently protects tenants of only two federal housing programs - those provided under Sections 6 and 8 of the U.S. Housing Act of 1937. These protections were an important first step. But we can do better. A woman's rights should not depend on the type of housing assistance she receives.
So my bill extends VAWA's housing protections to the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program, the Rural Housing Services program, the Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS program, the Section 811 Supportive Housing Program for persons with disabilities, and five additional federal housing programs. The Congressional Research Service estimates that the bill will cover more than four million housing units that are not included in existing law.
In addition, current law fails to secure housing rights for victims of sexual assault. My bill fixes that problem. It makes it unlawful to deny a woman federally assisted housing just because she is a victim of sexual assault. As the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence explains, too many victims become homeless as a result of sexual assault, and, once homeless, they are further vulnerable to sexual victimization. My bill recognizes that victims of sexual assault require safe housing just as do victims of domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking - groups that already are covered by existing law.
My bill also takes an important new step toward ensuring that victims of domestic and sexual violence do not end up on the streets. It requires managers of federally supported housing units to adopt emergency transfer policies for women who would be in imminent danger were they to stay in their current homes. Under these policies, a victim of domestic or sexual violence could move to a safe, federally subsidized housing unit instead of staying in harm's way.
I am proud to introduce this legislation with Senator Collins and Senator Mikulski, both of whom are true champions of women's rights. Both are advocates for victims of domestic and sexual violence. And, in 2005, both co-sponsored the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization bill. They were leaders in this area then, and they have stepped forward to lead again today. I thank them for their help.
The Housing Rights for Victims of Domestic and Sexual Violence Act is preventive, proven, and precedented.
It is preventive because it will keep women and children in their homes at a time when they are vulnerable - when they need a roof over their heads the most. It is no secret that shelters and transitional housing programs are overextended. This legislation addresses a victim's housing needs before she becomes homeless and requires those services.
The protections contained in the bill are proven. Advocacy groups from Minnesota and throughout the country - the people most familiar with the problem - have weighed in on this bill. It already has been endorsed by 23 organizations, including the National Network to End Domestic Violence, the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, the National Women's Law Center, the National Housing Law Project, and the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
The bill is precedented, too. We are not reinventing the wheel here. The bill builds upon housing protections that were included in the 2005 VAWA reauthorization bill, which passed the Senate with unanimous consent and was signed into law by President George W. Bush. Though many say the political climate here in Washington has changed for the worse in the years since then, I am hopeful that the goals underlying VAWA once again will transcend partisanship.
We have worked together to address the unique housing needs facing domestic and sexual violence victims in the past. We need to do so again today.
Thank you, Mr. President, and I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be included in the record.