HEALS Act Will Prioritize Funding, Increase Flexibility for Victims’ Housing

U.S. Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) today introduced the Helping End Abusive Living Situations (HEALS) Act to prioritize funding for domestic violence victims’ transitional housing, increase flexibility in transitional housing programs in communities so that victims can get back on their feet, and direct the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to research more housing options to support victims of domestic violence.

“Far too many bureaucratic hurdles stand between victims of domestic violence and access to safe housing,” said Sen. Cornyn. “This bill starts to break down those barriers by prioritizing funding for and increasing flexibility of transitional housing programs so survivors can focus on getting back on their feet instead of fearing how long they’ll have a roof over their head. I thank the many non-profits in Texas that support domestic violence victims, without whose input and support this bill would not be possible, and I urge my colleagues to join this bipartisan, common-sense effort to help victims of domestic violence.”

“When I talk with the folks who provide critical intervention services to victims of domestic violence, the most important issue is often victims’ need for immediate, safe refuge and supportive services that recognize the trauma they have experienced,” said Sen. Heitkamp. “By diverting funding away from transitional housing, the federal government has been inadvertently forcing communities to shutter transitional housing facilities, sometimes leaving victims of domestic violence without a safe alternative. Our bipartisan bill would fix this problem by helping to level the field for transitional housing and encouraging housing options that best support survivors — so that women and children have the residential stability to permanently escape their abusers. We must continue working to stop the spread of family violence to keep our communities strong and safe, and this bill is a step forward in making sure victims receive the housing, safety, and trauma support they need to begin the process of healing and recovery.”

Background:

In 2008, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) commissioned the Family Options Study and made policy shifts based on its research. While HUD has recently stated that “transitional housing may be an effective tool for addressing certain needs such as…safety for victims of family violence” they did not include family violence survivors in the study. With more than 12,000 unmet requests for domestic violence services in just one day in 2015, it is vital we invest in these lifesaving services.

To remedy this problem, the Help End Abusive Living Situations (HEALS) Act would:
• Create a specific section in the HUD Strategic Plan with a holistic response to the housing needs of victims of family violence in order to create outcomes that address safety and trauma, including by:
o Adjusting the Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) system to ensure domestic violence victims’ transitional housing is equal to that of the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing program of the Department.
o Ensuring there are appropriate avenues for defunded transitional housing programs to reapply for funding.
o Developing measurable criteria used to evaluate continuums of care to ensure collaboration with victim service providers to develop:
 local policy priorities focused on victims;
 coordinated entry processes that assess and prioritize victims of domestic violence and take their safety and confidentially needs into account; and
 mechanisms to ensure that programs receive the technical support and assistance they need to improve outcomes instead of reallocating or not awarding funds.
o Directing HUD to develop a research agenda that focuses on survivors of domestic violence and the housing modalities that best support them, especially the critical safety concerns and the link between trauma and residential stability explored in other recent studies.
• Make changes to the selection criteria used in evaluating service providers within communities by adding “success in addressing the safety needs of homeless survivors or domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking” as a selection criteria.
• Ensure continuums of care show HUD how they will measure the success of the victim service providers in meeting the housing, safety, and trauma needs of victims of domestic violence, and trauma needs to victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking.
• Require HUD to submit a report to Congress no later than 1 year after the date of enactment to include the trends in allocating resources for domestic violence projects and the increase in the allocation of resources for these projects since the enactment of the bill.
The HEALS Act is supported by the National Network to End Domestic Violence, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and National Domestic Violence Hotline.