Over the next few months, we will be sharing the personal story of Jessica Rose, a survivor of domestic violence trying to find housing for her family after leaving her abuser. Read part 1 below and continue onto part 2 by clicking here.
It is very important for people with lived experience of homelessness to feel heard. A lot of the time we get marginalized, and we feel pretty powerless. Being able to share our stories and spread awareness helps us to take some of that power back. This is my story about what led to my children and I to become homeless and how hard it has been for us to ﬁnd safe and stable housing. The current housing system is not set up to navigate the unique and urgent circumstances faced by survivors of domestic violence and their families.
In 2019, my children and I had to leave our home due to domestic violence being committed against me by their father. I had been working with an advocate, social services, and my therapist for two years developing a safety plan, documenting incidents, and attempting on multiple occasions to get him to leave. But it became clear that such attempts were short lived and only caused the violence to escalate. The day he strangled me in front of our three-year-old for refusing to give him a ride to pawn the lawn mower was the day we ﬂed.
We were homeless for three months while we waited for the applications and paperwork I had been ﬁlling out to make its way through the coordinated entry system. We were able to ﬁnd housing with help from local organizations at a low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) property unit set aside for victims of domestic violence. For 2 years it was great. We were happy. I was free to do things that I hadn’t been able to do before, like rearranging the furniture. Only a handful of people knew where we were. I felt safe. Then, in June of last year, my children’s father found out where we lived and paid a handful of uninvited visits.
One day when I got home from work, the property manager marched over and wanted to know whose beat-up jeep with junk tied all over it had been in my driveway. I told him it belonged to my children’s father. The manager was already aware that there was a history of domestic violence, so I explained the situation and informed him that the visits were unwanted, I did not like that they were happening, and I did not know what to do. The manager told me that he didn’t want my ex or his vehicle coming around the townhomes and he wasn’t going to allow it to continue. I was very relieved and thanked him. Despite this, the property manager gave me a lease violation that claimed I was allowing an unauthorized person to live in my unit. This, of course, was not true, but he refused to believe me.
He informed me that the owner had instructed him to do an inspection of my unit and that if he found any sign of my ex there, it would result in immediate eviction. I asked him to please come take a look at my unit right then, he refused. As I reached for the lease violation, he tapped it hard with his ﬁnger telling me that I lived in one of the “homeless units,” and that wasn’t helping my case.
I had done a lot of research and knew that the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) says that a Federal Housing Program cannot penalize a victim of domestic violence because of their abuser’s actions. What was happening to me was illegal. I worked with a legal advocate to draft a polite letter to the property owner asking that my lease violation be removed.
A week or so later I received a letter from the owner of the townhomes titled “RE: VAWA response” in an unsealed envelope clipped outside my door where anybody could have seen it— a violation of VAWA. The letter acknowledged that I was a victim of domestic violence at the hands of my ex and that I had a no contact order against him. The owner then proceeded to accuse me of lying about him not living there and refused to remove the lease violation. Included with this letter was a notice of a $118 rent increase with only two days until rent was due. This felt like retaliation for attempting to stand up for my rights.
I was extremely distressed that my abuser had located our whereabouts. I had asked for help. Instead of help, I was handed a lease violation, yelled at, threatened, accused of lying, and retaliated against. I wanted to do something about it, but even though they are required to comply with the VAWA, LIHTC properties are not overseen by HUD but rather by the IRS, and to date, the IRS has yet to publish any guidelines or enact consequences for LIHTC properties that violate VAWA.
We were no longer safe there. I had no recourse but to use Minnesota’s domestic violence laws to end my lease. So, we were homeless again— and much to my consternation, this time for 8 months. When I discovered why I was unable to secure housing, everything I thought I knew about how the world worked came crashing down…