The class action suit, on behalf of B.D. and others, seeks to change the city’s policy to open bifurcation hearings to both parties so domestic violence survivors in similar situations can remain in their homes. | AP">
By Sally Goldenberg
A 59-year-old home health aide who said she was physically and sexually assaulted by her husband is facing eviction after losing a city-administered rental voucher that was in his name.
Now, the Legal Aid Society is filing a federal class-action lawsuit accusing Mayor Bill de Blasio's housing agency of maintaining an "unlawful and devastating policy" that imperils domestic violence survivors.
The woman, who is identified in court papers as B.D., convinced a family court judge to grant her a restraining order against her now-ex-husband in 2015, after he attacked her in their apartment with a knife, according to the suit being filed Thursday.
But she said she could not persuade the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, which oversees the federal Section 8 program for city residents, to shift the voucher into her name. The couple, whose divorce was finalized last April, listed him as "head of household" when applying for the subsidy, thereby granting him control over it.
The voucher, which covers 70 percent of a household's rent, was changed to reflect her sole income after he left. But she said the city declined to remove his name after she repeatedly visited the agency's offices to present her case, leaving her vulnerable to interactions with him and a rent obligation she cannot afford.
"No one was there for me. It was me, all alone, and he have all the power over me," she said in an interview with POLITICO.
She described their marriage as a cycle of violence: He physically attacked her, threatened to kill her and raped her after she was instructed to refrain from sex because of a medical procedure. She said he forced her to clean the couple's bed sheets after he had sex with another woman while she was in a different room.
Shortly after getting a restraining order, she sought to "bifurcate" her subsidy by submitting to the city documented accounts of abuse, including a Certification of Domestic Violence, Dating Violence or Stalking. The form is intended to protect people under the Violence Against Women Act, passed in 1994.
But the city housing department never responded to her request, according to the interview and lawsuit. During in-person visits to agency offices, employees urged her to get a divorce. But even then, she was not able to get the voucher put solely in her name.
Last year, the agency held an administrative hearing with her ex-husband, which she said she did not know about and could therefore not attend.
"HPD claims that they received competing claims of domestic violence from B.D. and her husband. Ultimately HPD determined that her husband would retain use of the rent subsidy," according to the lawsuit, which is being filed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn.
A copy of the city's decision was entirely redacted, the suit said.
Then, in March of 2018, the city's Section 8 division sent her notice that her subsidy would end the following month.
She cannot afford her monthly rent of $1,040 on her current income of about $1,060 a month, which she gets from workers compensation checks. She left her job caring for Alzheimer's patients because of a hand injury and said she plans to return, even though she is not yet healed.
After her subsidy ended she stopped paying rent and is now in housing court proceedings that could lead to her eviction, Legal Aid attorneys said.
Her restraining ordered expired on Jan. 24, 2018. Last fall she received a new one after her ex-husband showed up at the apartment demanding a copy of the current lease, which still bears both their names.
"He pushed in the door and I have to sit by the door until he moved," she said. "He was cursing a lot and I was really nervous and ended up in the hospital the day after." She thought she'd had a heart attack but was told she did not.
The class action suit, on behalf of B.D. and others, seeks to change the city's policy to open bifurcation hearings to both parties so domestic violence survivors in similar situations can remain in their homes.
"The Violence Against Women Act protects low-income survivors from the Hobson choice of having to choose between homelessness or continuing to endure an abusive living situation," Legal Aid attorney Casey Rubinoff said.
She said the city's practice is "fraught with issues including discrimination and a lack of due process."
The suit, which Legal Aid filed along with the firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, says the city's practice "denies women who are survivors of domestic violence access to housing opportunities on the basis of sex."
The housing agency said it could not comment on a lawsuit that has yet be filed.
"HPD takes this issue very seriously and has already taken measures to support survivors of intimate partner violence," said agency spokesperson Libby Rohlfing.
"HPD has notified Section 8 assisted households about their rights and protections under the Violence Against Women Act and conducted trainings for both staff and property owners," she added. "The agency works closely with survivors of domestic violence in our Section 8 program to assist them in securing safe housing. We encourage any of our clients who have an issue to reach out to us."