Susie's PictureBy Susie McClannahan, Fair Housing Intake and Grant Coordinator

I am excited to be the Equal Right Center’s new Fair Housing Intake and Grant Coordinator. Having moved to Washington, DC, from Kansas City in July, I feel well-qualified to say that the search for housing in DC is not an overwhelmingly pleasant experience. The city is great and the public transportation is fantastic (compared to what I’m used to), but hunting for affordable housing is exhausting. However, I do feel lucky because I have not experienced any discrimination throughout my search.

Having only been here for a couple weeks, I have already talked with multiple individuals who have reported housing discrimination and it is often at the bottom of the list of their current struggles. Many are currently homeless, others are living in substandard housing and worried about their health and the health of their children, and some are facing eviction. That they even have the time and energy to report the incidents of discrimination is a testament to their strength, resiliency, and desire to prevent someone else from enduring what happened to them.

Housing should be a fundamental right. We all deserve to have a safe and sanitary place to live—however, that’s not the reality we live in. Homelessness and substandard housing are still substantial societal issues today. On top of that, marginalized individuals and communities experience additional barriers in housing due to widespread discrimination. Discrimination is not only demoralizing for the recipient, but it can have devastating impacts on a person’s safety and well-being.  By advocating for individuals who have experienced discrimination, I can support them in fulfilling their housing-related goals and combat housing discrimination in the DC metro area.

Through my new position, I am joining not only the ERC but also the fair housing movement. My background is in domestic and sexual violence, which is deeply tied to housing access. Several of the individuals I have talked to disclosed they were survivors of domestic violence, which was unfortunately not a surprise to me. Survivors of domestic violence are often evicted from housing for noise complaints related to their abuse or because their abusers are deemed safety threats to the building—instead of holding the abuser accountable, the survivor is punished for being associated with an abusive person. Evicting survivors can put their lives in danger as it makes it easier for their abusers to find them. It also means they may stay with their abusers longer or return to them so that they (and often their children) have somewhere to stay.

With that in mind, I am thrilled that Washington, DC, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) are taking strides to protect the housing rights of survivors of domestic and sexual violence. In 2006, Washington, DC, prohibited discrimination in housing towards survivors of domestic violence, which means that housing providers can no longer evict survivors of domestic violence as a strategy to respond to the abusive relationship. HUD has been implementing measures from the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) into their programs since 2005.  VAWA is the principal federal legislation dictating service provision to survivors of domestic and sexual violence. Through the 2005 and 2013 VAWA reauthorizations, many HUD programs now actively try to protect survivors of domestic and sexual violence while holding their abusers and perpetrators accountable. For instance, HUD-funded housing programs can now evict abusive partners and perpetrators without evicting the survivor as well. Many programs also now have emergency transfer plans so that survivors of domestic violence who fear for their safety can be moved to another housing unit. We still have a long way to go before our society understands the dynamics of domestic and sexual violence and creates collective systems of support—not walls—for survivors, but we now have some legal protections available to utilize when advocating for survivors.

As the Fair Housing Intake and Grant Coordinator, I am continuing to serve as an advocate. Much of my work involves supporting complainants through navigating their options after experiencing discrimination. I am committed to providing advocacy with a trauma-informed lens, especially utilizing harm reduction. My approach is to work with the individual in accomplishing the goals they have identified. There is no one right way to thrive, and I want to provide as many options as available to complainants so they can make the best choices for themselves.  Some potential ways the ERC can help complainants includes, but is not limited to, writing a reasonable accommodation request on behalf of an individual with disabilities, conducting civil rights testing to see if and how discrimination is occurring, and assisting a complainant in filing a complaint with HUD or the DC Office of Human Rights.

If you or someone you know has experienced housing discrimination in the greater Washington metro area, you can report it to the Equal Rights Center by calling 202-234-3062, emailing or filling out a form on our website.

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