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Shaheen & Wasserman Schultz Introduce Bicameral Bill to Provide Housing Rights to Domestic Violence Victims

(Washington, DC) – Today, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-23) reintroduced the Fair Housing for Domestic Violence and Sexual Violence Survivors Act. This legislation would provide legal protections for victims of domestic violence, sexual violence and sex trafficking who are seeking housing. The pandemic has exacerbated incidents of domestic violence and sexual assault, as well as housing discrimination, harassment and abuse.

“Women and children fleeing violence and abuse have acutely experienced homelessness during this pandemic,” said Senator Shaheen. “It’s unacceptable that victims of violence and trafficking don’t have legal protections to fight housing discrimination, meaning they can be evicted simply for being victims of violent crimes. This egregious oversight must be immediately fixed. That’s why I’m reintroducing a bill to ensure victims of violence and trafficking are granted fair housing protections.”

“For over a year now, victims of domestic assault and sexual violence were forced to make a devastating choice: stay with their abusers or risk homelessness amid a once-in-a-century global health crisis,” said Rep. Wasserman Schultz. “All too often, when victims try to leave or have their abuser removed, they are forced to deal with a lease that prohibits any criminal activity on the premises. Even though victims of violence are the target and not the perpetrators of such crimes, they can – and have been – evicted on these grounds. This is a commonsense reform that guarantees basic protections and addresses a gap in critical civil rights legislation.”

If enacted, the Fair Housing for Domestic Violence and Sexual Violence Survivors Act would help stem this crisis by:

  • Building on protections in the Violence Against Women Act with respect to domestic violence.
  • Adding ‘survivors of domestic violence, sexual violence and sex trafficking’ to the list of protected classes under the Fair Housing Act, establishing a clear standard across the country that victims of domestic violence, sexual violence or sex trafficking cannot be evicted or otherwise penalized for being victims of those crimes.
  • Allowing the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Justice to more effectively protect victims of domestic violence and sexual violence.
  • Encouraging more states to adopt similar protections at the state level.

As Chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that funds the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW), Shaheen has spearheaded efforts to protect survivors and to help them seek justice. In December, Shaheen once again successfully added the highest funding amount ever for Violence Against Women Act programs in the government funding legislation that was signed into law. 

Throughout the pandemic, Senator Shaheen has worked to provide more resources and services to domestic violence survivors nationwide. She helped lead calls to Congressional leadership to include additional funding to support the victims of child abuse, domestic violence and dating violence in COVID-19 response legislation. Last month, she pushed for a swift vote in the Senate to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which expired two years ago, after the House passed the legislation. Last year, she visited the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence (NHCADSV) in Concord, where she met with NHCADSV’s leadership and representatives from crisis centers to hear more about the impact COVID-19 has had on survivors and the state’s crisis centers.

Shaheen also led efforts in the Senate to establish basic rights and protections for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Her bill, the Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act, was signed into law in 2016 and created the first federally codified rights specifically for sexual assault survivors and for the first time allowed survivors the opportunity to enforce those rights in federal court. Last year, Shaheen introduced the bipartisan, bicameral Survivors’ Bill of Rights in the States Act to build on the Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act by incentivizing states to pass legislation that guarantees the survivors rights included in the federal legislation.