Mayor Bill de Blasio's housing agency is facing allegations of "unlawful and devastating" discrimination against domestic violence survivors, after a Brooklyn woman claimed that she's facing eviction because she divorced her abusive husband.
According to a class action suit filed by the Legal Aid Society on Thursday, the 58-year-old woman lived with her husband in a Brooklyn apartment subsidized by a Section 8 voucher—a federal assistance program administered by the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development. After he allegedly attacked her with a knife in 2015, the woman, identified in the complaint as B.D., obtained a restraining order against him, and ultimately a divorce. But when she attempted to move the voucher out of her husband's name, the woman says she was rebuffed by the city's housing agency.
Under the Violence Against Women Act, domestic abuse victims are afforded the opportunity to appeal for a "bifurcation" of their publicly-subsidized lease. However, the city's housing agency routinely violates that federal law, the complaint alleges, through its "practice of excluding domestic violence survivors from Section 8 voucher 'bifurcation' hearings that determine whether or not a survivor is able to stay in their home."
In B.D.'s case, she was never even informed of the existence of such a hearing. In June of last year, the lawsuit states, she received a letter stating that her ex-husband would retain the rent subsidy, due to "competing claims" of domestic violence. "Instead of conducting any due diligence into the allegations, HPD only allows the head of household to be heard and follows its family break-up policy that provides that the original head of household retains the use of the voucher," the complaint alleges.
Without the subsidy, B.D. is unable to afford her monthly rent, which increased from $273 to $1,040. She's been taken to housing court by her landlord and is now facing eviction, which would almost certainly leave her homeless, according to the suit. “No one was there for me. It was me, all alone, and he have all the power over me,” the woman said in an interview with POLITICO, which first reported on the suit.
The class action lawsuit, which Legal Aid filed along with the firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, aims to ensure that domestic violence survivors are guaranteed a hearing when attempting to bifurcate a lease. The suit also seeks unspecified damages for the "severe emotional distress" inflicted on B.D. by the city's alleged neglect.
In a statement to Gothamist, a spokesperson for HPD, Matthew Creegan, did not deny the allegations made in the lawsuit. “Survivors of domestic violence should not have to share a voucher with the person who abused them," Creegan said. "We are looking closely at the allegations in the case, reviewing our policies and procedures and seeing if any changes need to be made.”