By Kate Scott, Director of Fair Housing
Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development issued a final rule on implementation of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 in HUD programs. The rule expands key housing protections for survivors of violence.
Issuing the final rule was a key recommendation in the ERC’s Unlocking Discrimination report, released last week. The report utilized civil rights testing to evaluate whether white and African American female testers posing as having similar criminal backgrounds were treated differently on the basis of race. Through testing, the ERC was also able to gather information about certain criminal records screening policies and procedures local housing providers have in place.
In total, 47% of tests conducted revealed differential treatment on the part of a housing provider that favored the white female tester. Further, 28% of tests revealed a criminal records screening policy in place that may have an illegal disparate impact on the basis of race.
The problems of domestic violence, the incarceration of women, and housing discrimination are deeply intertwined.
In its press release announcing issuance of the final rule, HUD recognized that many survivors of violence incur a criminal record as a result of the violence committed against them. Specifically, the press release acknowledges that perpetrators “may force a survivor to participate in criminal activity or a survivor may be arrested as part of policies that require arresting of both parties in a domestic disturbance.” Accordingly, the final rule “ensures that covered housing providers do not deny tenancy or occupancy rights based solely on these adverse factors that are a direct result of being a survivor.”
Ideally, issuance of the final rule should spur covered VAWA covered housing providers that have been awaiting guidance from HUD to take more meaningful steps to implement current VAWA protections. Given the racial disproportionality of the criminal legal system combined with the criminalization that survivors of violence experience, the final rule offers an important tool in the toolbox to ensure equal housing opportunity for all.