Buffalo, New York – Today, State Senate Candidate Amber Small announced Project Safe House, a reform effort to protect victims of domestic violence. Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins joined Small along with other community leaders to offer feedback and their own personal experience in combatting domestic violence.
Small’s Project Safe House comes during Domestic Violence Awareness Month and amid public outrage over the recent comments by presidential candidate Donald Trump, which personify rape culture and abuse towards women.
In announcing Project Safe House, Small emphasized that “One in five women are victims of domestic violence. These women face tremendous challenges physically, emotionally and financially. Victims often struggle with speaking up for fear of retaliation and further abuse. Finding and staying in safe and affordable housing should never be a reason victims are trapped in this cycle of violence. Project Safe House is meant to prevent just that.”
Small continued, “As we’ve seen highlighted in recent days, domestic violence and abuse are issues that women face daily in every community, across every race and every demographic. I will always stand up and fight for the rights of women—especially those who are victims of domestic abuse.”
Project Safe House aims to address housing needs for domestic violence victims by:
Enacting policies giving victims priority for municipal housing grant lists;
Prohibiting evictions under local nuisance ordinances for tenants who call 911 due to domestic violence;
Prohibiting point or strike based housing systems from penalizing victims of domestic violence and abuse for calling 911; and
Prohibiting landlords from discriminating in renting to women who receive financial support from domestic violence support programs.
Recently, Amber Small again denounced Donald Trump and his appalling comments about women and called upon all local Republicans, including her opponent, to do the same. For more on Project Safe House, please see the attached policy memo. For more information about Amber Small and her campaign for Senate, please visit www.smallforsenate.com.
Small serves as the Executive Director of the Parkside Community Association. In this role she is an advocate for 2,500 residents, working to enhance their quality of life through crime prevention, traffic calming, fair housing advocacy and more. Amber also serves on the Board of Directors for B-Team Buffalo, and proudly serves as Vice Chair of WEPAC, a nonpartisan group focused on increasing female involvement in politics and government. Amber is a graduate of the University at Buffalo, and resides in North Buffalo’s Parkside neighborhood with her family. New York's Sixtieth Senate District is located wholly in Erie County and includes the communities of Tonawanda, City of Tonawanda, Kenmore, Grand Island, Hamburg, Orchard Park, Evans, Brant, and the City of Buffalo. Small is endorsed by the Democratic Party, the Working Families Party and the Women’s Equality Party.
PROJECT SAFE HOUSE: ACHIEVING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE REFORM
NUISANCE ORDINANCE REFORM
Problem: Nuisance ordinances are overbroad and vaguely worded which leads to domestic violence victims being evicted for calling 911. This often leaves tenants in the impossible situation of choosing between housing security and ability to report crime. Nuisance ordinances are not reducing drug and gang crimes as they were originally intended to do but are instead punishing domestic violence victims: (http://scholar.harvard.edu/mdesmond/publications/unpolicing-urban-poor-consequences-third-party-policing-inner-city-women).
Some municipalities in New York State use a point system and some use a “three strike” system, but both systems affect women, people of color, and victims of domestic violence more than actual perpetrators of crime. Unfortunately, calls to emergency services may count against a tenant’s “points” or “strikes”, since the laws do not differentiate between tenants who are victims and those who are perpetrators.
In an analysis of nuisance ordinances in Binghamton and Fulton, NY, instances of domestic violence comprised 38% and 48% of all incidents respectively. In both cities, that was the largest category by percentage of nuisance ordinance cases. Both cities identify instances of crime perpetrated against the tenants as “violations” of nuisance ordinances including the crimes of sexual assault, larceny, and assault.
Unfortunately, if landlords do not proceed with formal evictions, a common response is often to threaten to raise rents if the tenant calls 911 again. This is a problem all across New York State. Not only are tenants being penalized for calling 911 regarding crime in a residence, but they also have “strikes” applied to them for contacting other emergency services. For references to these problems and solutions see: https://www.aclu.org/report/silenced-how-nuisance-ordinances-punish-crime-victims-new-york.
Solutions: Municipalities should be prohibited from applying nuisance ordinances in situations where a tenant called 911 or where a tenant is identified as a victim for eviction purposes. There should likewise be a requirement in which a tenant must be informed when a “strike” has been given to them, and an avenue for them to appeal if they were the victim of the crime or the person who called 911.
Police should be allowed and encouraged to make judgment calls when responding to a 911 call and decide at the scene whether or not an incident should qualify as a violator of the nuisance.
Barriers should also be put in place to prevent landlords from discriminating against women receiving financial support from domestic violence support programs. Landlords believe that victims of domestic violence present a higher likelihood of violating nuisance codes, but this is an unfair and unconstitutional practice that leads to domestic violence victims being unable to access quality housing.
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE PRIORITY FOR HOUSING ASSISTANCE
Problem: In Erie County alone, Section 8/Belmont waiting lists are so overwhelmed that they have been closed since 2011. For those lucky enough to have gotten a spot, the wait times are several years long. Sadly, this often means that domestic violence victims are forced to stay with abusers. While there are private domestic violence shelters, resources are often limited and inadequate. Not-for-profits, like the Family Justice Center, need additional resources at their disposal to secure safe living arrangements for victims.
Solutions: Create a statewide priority housing assistance program for victims of domestic violence. This would require one of the following:
Proof of one incident significant enough to endanger safety (requires police DIR or police report or OOP);
Two incidents within 24 months;
Treatment at hospital for domestic violence injury; or
A referral from domestic violence shelter organization or non-DV temporary homeless shelter
Victims who meet just one of these requirements would qualify to be placed on the public housing list and given priority. This program is already in place in other parts of New York State, but victims’ access to safe housing should not depend on one’s zip code. For more information on this issue, including places where it has been successfully implemented, see https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/nycha/downloads/pdf/victimdv.pdf.