By Ramya Sekaran
ACLU Women's Rights Project
Imagine you endure abuse in your own home, and are finally able to flee. You want to keep your children safe, and you are ready to start a new life. But your abuser continues to stalk you. You finally find a safe and affordable place to live.
But just as you are about to finalize the paperwork, you are asked to disclose information about your children that could put all of you at risk of being found by your abuser. You are told that without that information, you cannot rent the apartment.
In December 2010, this is exactly what happened to Hope, a survivor of domestic violence, who was denied housing by a property management company because she refused to provide the Social Security numbers of her minor children for safety reasons. Hope shared her experience in an earlier post.
The ACLU filed a complaint on behalf of Hope with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), arguing that Concord violated the Fair Housing Act by discriminating based on sex and familial status (having children in one's household).
Today, Concord Management agreed to change its discriminatory and unnecessary policy. Under the agreement, Concord will compensate Hope and adopt housing protections contained in the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that prohibit discrimination against survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking and to provide reasonable accommodations to survivors at the more than 100 properties they manage in 8 states.
Hope's reaction to the policy changes is inspiring:
I have learned first-hand that domestic violence damages lives beyond the relationship with the abuser. There are many barriers a victim faces when attempting to leave. Discrimination based on domestic violence is very real and as a victim, I have seen it happen to myself and others while trying to find housing, employment, and in ways most would not assume.
These policy changes literally could be the difference between surviving or just existing for some survivors. To have the hope of a safe place to rebuild your life, a place to call your own is for many the first step in surviving beyond the walls of abuse. I can close my eyes and imagine the humiliation and fear that victims will now be spared due to the policy changes.
Sometimes what is right is just as simple as it sounds. The right to fair housing, the right to be heard and advocated for, and the right to count as a domestic violence victim are the first steps in ending domestic violence and empowering victims.
We couldn't have said it better ourselves.