Pave the Way Home: Collaborations for Safe Housing and Survivor Services

Posted on May 11, 2021 by Maryellen Hess Cameron

Maryellen Hess Cameron

Maryellen Hess Cameron spent over 25 years as the Executive Director of non-profit agencies in the social....

Survivors like Laura get caught in the intersection between homelessness and domestic violence, a situation you see every day in your work as a victim advocate and service provider. You see survivors escape, only to end up on the street.  Your job is to find solutions to address their complex needs. 

That’s where partnerships come into play. Victim service providers can collaborate across systems with affordable housing agencies, breaking down the silo effect. It begins when parties meet to discuss how they can work together. Frustration arises when one service provider is not aware of laws, rules and regulations that govern the others. Things like jargon and acronyms can lead to misunderstandings. In a partnership you can clear those up from the beginning. However, it will take time to yield benefits, so there’s not a moment to waste. 

This post previews information housing agencies and survivor services can use to build a framework. You can use tools like Casebook to record and evaluate the services that your clients need and obtain; automated workflows within your case management software can be helpful for this purpose. 

For a client like Laura, you would continue to document your interventions in her Casebook file. You can track other service delivery for their effectiveness, as well as your obligations as a partner to them. For instance, as you interact with housing providers you can document that they have, or have not, used the full range of housing protections included in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and how you addressed them. A Casebook workflows with the law’s requirement will simplify the process for you.

About the Money

At the time of this writing the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) does not mandate that agencies it funds designate resources for survivors, but it does allow agencies the discretion to do so. A partnership is a great opportunity to advocate for such an earmark.

If the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2021 House bill is passed in the Senate (without changes from the House bill) it will provide victim relocation vouchers for survivors who need to move to other housing or need help to maintain current housing on their own. 

Build the Partnerships First

Effective partnership means all parties understand each other’s roles, organizations, and governing rules and regulations. Housing agencies provide affordable housing or rent assistance. Service providers are advocates and case managers for survivors. Private landlords may have tenants with federally funded rent subsidies. For example, if they accept Housing Choice Vouchers they must adhere to VAWA and may need a better understanding of how to do so. 

It’s normal for one agency’s service providers to think other agencies aren’t doing enough for the client. In reality, everyone is overwhelmed. Social service caseloads are daunting and resources for affordable housing are limited and complex. Clear communications between everyone can reduce common frustrations.

Conflicts can arise when it seems that agencies’ goals contradict. Partnerships can focus on shared goals. I once created a matrix for performance metrics for my agency’s housing programs and our partner service agencies’ programs. It revealed substantial overlap; goals were written differently but often for the same desired outcome. That matrix resolved a lot of tension and restored trust.

What Housing Providers Need to Know

Federally funded housing agencies must follow VAWA. HUD provides them with guidance for this, including models for Emergency Transfer Plans and Safety Plans. Victims services advocates have a role to help housing providers understand survivor safety precautions. Your discussions can shore up any gaps in their knowledge. 

If a housing agency must warn or cite a tenant for lease violations they can educate tenants about their rights under VAWA. The Notice of Occupancy Rights  for tenants explains the VAWA protections but housing agency staff should expect to talk about it in layman's terms as well. 

Remember, you are the expert on working with survivors. It is your job to intervene if a housing provider has a tenant experiencing any form of domestic violence. Make sure they know that you will respond as quickly as possible to their concerns. However, in the event the survivor will not accept your services housing agencies cannot refuse housing or terminate survivors’ occupancy. 

What Domestic Violence Service Providers Need to Know

VAWA has explicit requirements for how housing agencies serve victims of domestic violence. Every tenant must follow their lease, but VAWA protects survivors from penalties for lease violations that are related to their abuse. A word of caution; it’s not a free pass for everything. Tenants are still subject to penalties for lease violations unrelated to abuse. Nonpayment of rent because the tenant’s partner injured her and she missed work is one thing. Nonpayment to buy a new TV is another.

VAWA applies to all properties HUD calls “covered housing.” This Massachusetts Law Reform Institute list applies nationally. (The site’s program descriptions are clearer than HUD’s.) 

If you are unsure whether your client lives in covered housing ask your housing providers where they get their funding. Private landlords may have a subsidy that is not apparent so it’s worth asking if they have any form of federal assistance, such as an interest free loan.  

People Eligible for VAWA:

• Applicants and tenants of HUD housing programs who are victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking. Protections cover unmarried partners.

• Protections are not limited to women. They are available to all, without regard to sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

Claiming Your Client’s Rights Under VAWA

Start by meeting with the agency’s property manager or landlord to explain the circumstances behind a lease violation or other special need. They need information to help you agree on the appropriate action. 

A housing provider may ask for proof that the client is a victim of abuse. They cannot appear to treat tenants differently, so overlooking a lease violation without the right documentation can violate Fair Housing laws, or at least appear to violate them. Acceptable forms of proof are listed in the Certification of Domestic Violence, Dating Violence Or Stalking form

Sometimes it’s not a simple thing for a housing agency to serve tenants in jeopardy because of abuse against them. When their abusers stalk them or violate protection orders they may threaten the safety of other tenants or damage property that inhibits their use of it. The housing agency is also answerable to them. 

Partnerships provide the trust among agencies to resolve such issues. When all parties come to the table with knowledge of what is realistic for everyone else, you can find a way to protect both the tenants and all of the agencies serving them. 

Final Notes

The American Rescue Plan designated $50 billion for survivors made homeless due to Covid-19 related hardships. The funding is a mix of rent assistance and additional support services. Check with the housing authority and nonprofit housing agencies to learn the application process.

To learn more about housing protections for survivors check out the National Housing Law Project Community Toolkit. It has information and sample demand letters that advocates can use to advocate for survivors’ rights. 


Associated Content:

Papering Your Way To Housing