Policy Matters: A Story of Domestic Violence and Housing

Nikkisha was denied housing after she got a protection order against her abusive ex-boyfriend. She and her children spent months moving from shelter to shelter. Image credit: Vine Maple Place.

Written by Andrea VanHorn, Community Resource Coordinator, YWCA Seattle I King I Snohomish

I want to shout hooray! What I really want to do is give a pat on the back to our elected officials for coming together on an important cause and passing versions of the Fair Tenant Screening Act with bipartisan support.

This is huge. Currently, tenant screening companies can tell landlords about domestic violence history on housing applicants’ records. This sometimes leads to domestic violence victims being denied housing.

According to Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WSCADV), in Washington State and Idaho, 44% of women reported being abused by an intimate partner. If nearly half of the adult female population were victims of reported domestic violence, the odds are that close to the same numbers of women had the potential to be or were screened out of housing because of these archaic tenant screening laws.

Nikkisha, a single mother of three, was one of those women. Three years ago, Nikkisha was living with her boyfriend in Kent. She worked full time, paid the rent and bills, and took care of her family, but due to her low credit score, the apartment was in her boyfriend’s name. Nikkisha’s relationship with her boyfriend turned sour and he started to physically abuse her. Almost daily he would beat and choke her.

Then Nikkisha found out she was pregnant with her third child. She hoped the abuse would stop, but it became worse. Nikkisha made regular visits to the hospital and police station—and eventually served him with a protection order. When she was five months pregnant, Nikkisha’s ex-boyfriend moved back in with his mother and handed the apartment over to her. A week went by and Nikkisha went to put the apartment in her name.

“The apartment manager informed me that I could not apply for the apartment because of the domestic violence reports,” Nikkisha told me. “Basically, she didn’t want to waste my money because she was sure I would be denied because of the D.V.”

Nikkisha was devastated. She had a steady income, she had been a good tenant, but because she was a victim of abuse, she and her two children were now homeless. For the remainder of her pregnancy, Nikkisha went from shelter to shelter with her two children, washing up in a Denny’s restaurant, and calling upwards of 20 housing programs daily to try to find a place to live.

Eventually, Nikkisha got lucky and was able to move into transitional housing and then permanent housing with Vine Maple Place and YWCA.

“I was very blessed to get into a place after three months of hell. Someone chose to beat me and I was not able to keep the apartment, not because I could not pay but because of being screened out due to domestic violence,” Nikkisha said.

Nikkisha was fortunate, but many women, men and families are not. With this new version of the Fair Tenant Screening Act, there will be important protection for victims of abuse. Tenant screening companies will be prohibited from reporting individuals who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. With this monumental change, individuals and families will not have to be pushed into homelessness like Nikkisha and will no longer have to be prisoners of their past.

Do you want to be part of this monumental change, as well? Continue to urge your representatives to change our archaic laws and make housing more accessible and equal for all. Here are some steps you can take right now:

1) Call 1.800.562.6000 and ask your elected officials to continue supporting the current versions of the Fair Tenant Screening Act, SHB 1529 and SSB 5568.

2) Spread the word about the Fair Tenant Screening Act and share this post on social media. If you tweet, use the hashtag #FTSA2013. The Washington Low Income Housing Alliance has great info on how to advocate on both Twitter and Facebook HERE.

3) Talk about it! Record a video comment on our Fair Tenant Screening Act page. Read this step-by-step guide to uploading video comments to the Firesteel website.

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