The blog of the Urban Institute
February 2, 2021

Domestic Violence Survivors Urgently Need Housing Stability and Solutions during the Pandemic

February 2, 2021

Survivors of domestic violence face mounting precarity as the COVID-19 and eviction crises collide and create fractures in community and household stability. Disasters and emergencies increase frequency and severity of abuse, and the pandemic is no exception. Economic instability, unsafe housing, and lack of social support can dramatically worsen survivors’ situations.

Allocating additional funding dedicated to housing for women experiencing domestic violence and supporting evidence-based housing support models could help prevent homelessness and avoid perpetuating instability, discrimination, and cycles of poverty.

Rising domestic violence rates are elevating the need for safe housing during COVID-19 pandemic

As stay-at-home orders were implemented across the US last year, calls to domestic abuse hotlines swelled as much as 26 percent above the 2019 average in some cities. Alarmingly, hotline calls remain elevated above normal levels in many cities, and evidence suggests domestic violence cases during the pandemic have been underreported.

Lack of safe housing is one of the primary barriers survivors face when leaving abusive partners and COVID-19 heightens this barrier. Now, survivors often face the difficult decision of staying in their home with an abusive partner or leaving and facing a tumultuous housing and economic landscape.

The looming threat of eviction may also deter survivors from leaving abuse. Though the new administration extended the eviction moratorium through March, mass evictions are predicted when it ends. Survivors are less likely to report their abuse when they fear eviction (PDF), and being evicted can impede their ability to financially escape their abusers.

Domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness for women; between 22 and 57 percent of homelessness among women is caused by domestic violence, and 38 percent (PDF) of women who experience domestic violence also experience homelessness at some point in their lives. These statistics exclude nonbinary and trans women, who experience domestic violence and homelessness at higher rates and who may experience disproportionate economic instability because of the pandemic. Undocumented survivors are also particularly vulnerable and often have to make the difficult choice of not pursuing domestic violence cases against their abusers for fear of deportation.

Racist and discriminatory housing policies disproportionately harm Black survivors

Survivors often experience discrimination by landlords during the screening process. Compounding this, Black women survivors often face racial discrimination; research shows Black women renters in many states are more than twice as likely to have evictions filed against them than white renters.

Survivors are more vulnerable to eviction and its consequences, including job loss, being blacklisted from future rentals, and increased housing instability and homelessness. Black women are disproportionately burdened (PDF) by these outcomes. Racist and discriminatory housing policies reproduce cycles of economic and housing instability, especially for low-income Black women. The wave of evictions predicted to follow the end of federal and state moratoriums will doubly affect Black women who are survivors of abuse, who are already disproportionately represented in the homeless population.

Policymakers have an opportunity to provide housing and relief to survivors

Housing stability is key to prevent the revictimization of survivors and their children. Federal and local policymakers can consider these evidence-based, near- and longer-term strategies to improve outcomes for survivors.

  • Support Housing First and rapid re-housing strategies. Research shows these models help survivors enter housing quickly and increase stability. Providers of Housing First and rapid re-housing for domestic violence survivors should emphasize flexibility and survivor-driven choice when implementing these models.
  • Provide additional rental assistance. Rent assistance targeted to survivors can bridge financial gaps to make ends meet, which may mean the difference between housing stability and homelessness for some survivors. Additionally, rent assistance is proven to decrease instances of domestic violence. Given the economic fallout of the pandemic, rent assistance will be a crucial support.
  • Reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which provides critical housing protections to survivors and funding to programs serving survivors. Reauthorization should be a priority within the new administration’s first 100-day plan to combat COVID-19, considering the increase in domestic violence because of the pandemic. Efforts stalled in Congress in 2019; passing the enhanced bill would secure federal funding streams for domestic violence programs, strengthen the infrastructure of survivor’s supports and legal protections, and be an important step to lessening housing instability, housing discrimination, and homelessness.
  • Allocate and expand emergency funds to items that can improve survivors’ stability. Policymakers could do this in future relief packages or extend and expand Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding. Proposed COVID-19 relief bills should prioritize securing additional rent assistance, transitional housing, and noncongregate emergency shelter in addition to extending eviction moratoria.

Federal policymakers should consider passing another relief package, but it’s ultimately up to local policymakers to prioritize domestic violence survivors when distributing funds. Local policymakers and providers should consider directly targeting resources toward Black women and other women of color, who are most vulnerable to domestic violence and housing discrimination. Addressing inequities head-on will help policymakers make the greatest impact. To best serve the needs of survivors, policy should include survivor-driven advocacy and input. Domestic violence survivors have been made more vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic, and policymakers can begin to address those vulnerabilities by funding housing options and securing housing protections.

Nino Bebua / EyeEm / Getty Images

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