Opinion: Domestic violence survivors like me need housing support

To ensure survivors can obtain safe housing, Albany must include funding for the Housing Access Voucher Program and New York State Supportive Housing Program in the state budget.

Gov. Kathy Hochul signs a series of bills strengthening support and protections for domestic violence survivors on Oct. 18, 2022.

Gov. Kathy Hochul signs a series of bills strengthening support and protections for domestic violence survivors on Oct. 18, 2022. Darren McGee/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

Two years ago, my daughter and I were homeless. We had escaped an abusive relationship, but post-separation litigation in family court and coercive control made it difficult for me to keep a steady job. The COVID-19 pandemic further compounded my financial instability, and I was unable to afford the apartment we had lived in for more than five years. For six months, the two of us were stuck staying with friends and family and living in hotels. Because we weren’t in active crisis, we couldn’t qualify for the domestic violence shelters, and I was afraid of entering the Department of Homeless Services shelter system. It was unsustainable.

Eventually, I received an Emergency Housing Voucher with help from my case manager at the Manhattan Family Justice Center, which was paired with a housing navigator at New Destiny Housing who searched for and found us a place. This allowed my family to move into a safe apartment that we still call home to this day and provided us with support and aftercare from experts who helped us on the road to stability. The experience opened my eyes to an unsettling fact – there are tens of thousands of domestic violence survivors like me who are struggling with housing instability, yet there are not nearly enough resources to ensure we can all find the stable homes and support that would allow us to begin rebuilding our lives. While listening to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s State of the State Address, I was glad to hear her put victims of abuse at the forefront of her agenda. Now, she and the state Legislature finally have the chance to deliver the changes our system needs so that survivors and vulnerable New Yorkers can access safe and affordable housing. 

This year, both the state Senate and Assembly included funding for the Housing Access Voucher Program in their budget proposals. This $250 million program – which would create a permanent, statewide rent subsidy available to all New Yorkers who meet the eligibility requirements, regardless of immigration status – could help as many as 30,000 New Yorkers avoid the trauma of homelessness and find permanent housing. This initiative, which is supported by almost every major housing organization in the state, would immediately impact the lives of thousands of survivors like me, many of whom have been living in shelters for years.

Our state continues to deal with an overcrowded shelter system, while hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers are on the brink of eviction. The Housing Access Voucher Program would ease the burden in shelters while ensuring every New Yorker, no matter where they come from, can find a permanent home. If Hochul really does want to improve the lives of survivors, she’ll work with the legislature to ensure that this critical funding is included in the final budget.

Survivors need to be able to rely on a strong safety net, but we must also have the tools we need to feel free again. Just as speedy housing placement is essential to helping survivors thrive, so is funding supportive housing, which provides on-site services like mental health counseling and financial planning to families in need of extra support. Though the aftercare I received through the Emergency Housing Voucher program wasn’t dedicated supportive housing, I know firsthand how essential these services are, and I have heard from dozens of other survivors how important supportive housing was to their recovery.

Unfortunately, the New York State Supportive Housing Program is severely underfunded, having barely received any rate increases since it was created almost 40 years ago. Since the program fails to cover the costs of building security and case management, supportive housing providers are forced to constantly fundraise from private donors to try to make up the difference. This is not a sustainable solution.

The state Senate included $32 million in its budget to bring the New York State Supportive Housing Program in line with New York’s newer supportive housing program, the Empire State Supportive Housing Initiative. As a domestic violence survivor, I implore the Assembly and the governor to follow the Senate’s lead so that New Yorkers who need additional support and aftercare to get back on their feet have the resources to do so.

More than a year removed from our experience with homelessness, I’ve found a new job that I love, and my daughter continues to excel in school. This was only possible because of the housing search assistance and aftercare support we received. Now, more than ever, I’ve realized that not having to worry about our housing stability has afforded us the chance to thrive – a feeling everyone deserves. As the Legislature and Governor Hochul debate the final budget, they must take seriously their responsibility to domestic violence survivors and provide funding for the Housing Access Voucher Program and New York State Supportive Housing Program. Every survivor across New York is owed this same opportunity.