Domestic violence is an issue that deserves the attention of New York City's mayoral candidates. It impacts every neighborhood in all five boroughs and is a leading cause of homelessness among New Yorkers; one-third of homeless families using the shelter system are survivors.
While shelters can provide an escape from abusers, they are only a temporary solution and do not afford survivors with the long-term security and supportive services they need. Today, most will end up still homeless, in risky situations or back in the homes of their abusers by the time their shelter stay expires.
Permanent and affordable housing for victims and their families is the only way to guarantee survivors’ continued security and place them on a path toward self-sufficiency. Yet, less than one percent of supportive housing in New York City is designated for domestic violence survivors and survivors are excluded from most other affordable and supportive housing referral systems.
It will be up to the next mayor of New York to address this crisis with the right kind of smart technical fixes to improve access to housing for survivors of domestic violence and implement modest investments to spur permanent affordable housing development.
Most low cost technical fixes can be accomplished through changes in City housing policy that affect how survivors can access different housing resources.
The current application process to obtaining affordable housing is lengthy, cumbersome, and inefficient, creating an unnecessary barrier between survivors and lifesaving resources.
Even though they are homeless, residents of domestic violence shelters cannot access HPD Section 8, HPD homeless set-aside units, or many supportive and semi-permanent housing options. HPD’s homeless resources should be made available to survivors of domestic violence using the Human Resources Administration shelter system.
In addition, the eligibility criteria for NYCHA domestic violence priority status relies heavily on criminal justice based documentation, yet most applicants from domestic violence shelters do not meet these criteria. In fact, in 2011, only 28 percent of domestic violence emergency shelter residents are even eligible for domestic violence priority. The application requirements should be expanded so as to not rely exclusively on criminal documentation.
By streamlining and expediting the application process for Housing Preservation and Development and New York City Housing Authority housing, survivors will have better access to a safe place to stay before exiting the shelter system.
These low cost technical fixes would go a long way towards improving access for survivors of domestic violence, but investments in spurring new development of permanent affordable housing are also essential.
Modest investments in permanent affordable housing would wean the city off of its $1 billion homeless shelter system and provide long-term and less costly solutions for survivors of domestic violence. The actual cost to house a family in a shelter for one year is $36,000, compared to an average of $12,000 per year in rent for permanent affordable housing. Yet, according to a 2007 report by the Independent Budget Office, the City spent $140 million on shelter for domestic violence victims compared to only $400,000 for permanent housing.
If the next mayor of New York designates a City agency to fund domestic violence support services in permanent housing, developers will be able to take advantage of capital funding and spur new construction of supportive housing for survivors.
The reality is that many survivors lack the work experience or education needed to support themselves and without some financial assistance, they are unable to afford an apartment on their own. According to New Destiny Housing’s 2012 report, Out in the Cold: Housing Cuts Leave Domestic Violence Survivors With No Place to Go, a household would have to make $24.68 per hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment in New York City, a significant amount of money for any single parent. The development of a rent subsidy program that included job training would ease this burden for survivors of domestic violence and place them on a pathway to self-sufficiency.
It will also be important for the next Mayor to explore bold new initiatives to tackle domestic violence. The introduction of a rapid re-housing program through New York City Family Justice Centers would reduce the use of costly shelters, provide services to domestic violence survivors who cannot access shelter, improve the long-term safety and stability of survivors, and save the City money.
Reducing domestic violence in New York City will require many solutions, from technical fixes to modest investments, and new initiatives. But a key factor to supporting low-income survivors and their children is providing them with permanent affordable housing. This will save the City millions of dollars that are currently spent on costly shelters and place the City on a path toward eradicating domestic violence while ensuring victims no longer have to choose between abuse and homelessness. This is a goal worthy of the next mayor of New York City.
Carol Corden is the executive director of New Destiny Housing, which seeks to end domestic violence by providing survivors and their families with permanent, affordable housing and supportive services that will guarantee their long-term safety and well-being.