By Sarah Loy
Domestic violence affects people of all social and economic levels and includes physical, emotional, financial or sexual abuse by a spouse or other intimate partner. Victims of domestic violence are most often women and children. Domestic violence can affect performance at work and at school and can disrupt a family’s home life, not only through the abuse experienced at home, but also by causing difficulty in the family’s ability to find or keep affordable housing. According to a report by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness in the United States (Lost Housing, Lost Safety: Survivors of Domestic Violence Experience Housing Denials and Evictions Across the Country (NLCHP, 2007).
Maintaining housing stability while you are experiencing domestic violence or even after you leave a violent relationship can be difficult. It can be made more difficult if you are evicted from the apartment you live in or are prevented from renting a new apartment because of past incidents of domestic violence where, for example, neighbors have complained about police calls, or the abuser has damaged the apartment. In Massachusetts, it is illegal to discriminate in housing on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, familial status (children in the household), sex (gender), disability, marital status, age, ancestry, sexual orientation, veteran status, and receipt of public assistance or housing subsidy.
Under certain laws that cover many affordable housing programs such as federal public housing, it is considered illegal discrimination on the basis of gender to evict someone or deny her an apartment, or otherwise try to punish her, because of violence committed against her, because she has a restraining order against someone, or because of damage caused in her apartment by an abuser.
If you suspect that you have been the victim of housing discrimination, please call the Worcester Fair Housing Project (WFHP) at (800) 649-3718; TTY (508) 755-3260. WFHP is a project of the Legal Assistance Corporation of Central Massachusetts.
You can also contact the City of Worcester’s Fair Housing intake worker at (508) 799-8486. The WFHP will investigate any complaints of illegal housing discrimination in Worcester County. WFHP attorneys are available to assist victims of housing discrimination with resolution of their cases, whether through mediated settlements, filing complaints with a state or federal agency, or litigation.