Affordable Housing Shortage Causes Victims to Return to Abusers
The Memorial Day weekend floods destroyed or damaged more than 1000 residences in Hays County including all 100 of the San Marcos Housing Authority units on C.M. Allen Drive, forcing many to seek new or temporary shelter. Many of the flood victims who were displaced have found it hard to find affordable temporary housing.
“Just imagine what flood victims went through when they had no place to live. That is what victims of domestic violence experience every day. The only difference is that victims of domestic violence can go back to the batterer because the flood didn’t take their house away. They’re forced to go back to horrible situations just because safe, affordable housing doesn’t exist,” says Elva Gonzalez, Director of Programs and Services at HCWC.
Domestic violence survivors face a number of challenges when it comes to finding affordable housing. Subsidized housing, including public housing or Section 8 vouchers that make rent cheaper, are a first choice for many victims who may be struggling financially to support themselves. According to Gene Martin II, LBSW, Resident Services Director at San Marcos Housing Authority (SMHA), the wait list for Section 8 housing in Hays County is currently closed. It opens up for enrollment every two years or so for a short period of time. It fills up quickly – often within a few days to a week – and then the list is closed again for a year or more.
The wait list for subsidized rental units at the San Marcos Housing Authority can range from several months to several years, depending on the size of the unit, says Martin. State funding for affordable housing projects has dried up, and developer incentives are not enough to meet the local need, says Ruben Garza, Executive Director of Southside Community Center in San Marcos.
Victims with children have additional hurdles to face because they may not be able to keep the kids if they can’t find a suitable place to live. “There’s a lot of fear by victims of domestic violence about losing custody of their children because it’s a common threat by a batterer,” says Gonzalez. “They fear their batterer and Child Protective Services. That is sometimes the option victims are faced with: to stay with the batterer or become homeless and risk CPS or someone taking their children away from them.”
“Having a bad credit record can limit your housing options, too. Batterers tend to set up situations where victims are tied to the batterer’s bad credit and their credit history. Also, if there are charges pending against them, for instance if the victim fights back, charges are sometimes filed against both of them or just the victim. Those charges can make it more difficult for them to get into housing,” says Gonzalez.
Domestic violence victims can face temporary and unpredictable living situations that cause emotional distress, physical hardships and interrupt children’s schooling.
Having affordable housing is absolutely critical for victims of domestic violence to get out of abusive situations,” says Elva Gonzalez.
One woman went to a motel after staying at our shelter for 45 days. She has six children, and she didn’t want to go back to her partner who was very physically abusive. She applied to all the waiting lists for public and affordable housing, and didn’t have any other options. She and her children stayed at the motel for a full month, during which time she was working and trying to save up money to pay for a rental and first and last month’s rent. Her credit was bad, which also makes getting an apartment hard. She found a good job and had some family in the area, so she wanted to stay here. Recently, HCWC was able to help her with an Emergency Food and Shelter assistance grant to help her get into a place of her own.
It’s important for the whole community to address the need for affordable and subsidized housing in a market where rental occupancy rates are at 96% and housing prices are sky-rocketing.
“For the 36 years I’ve worked at the shelter, that has been the barrier that victims tell us over and over again is that they can’t get into affordable housing,” says Gonzalez. “It was bad a long, long time ago, and now it’s so much worse.”
Our McCoy Family Violence Shelter provides a safe haven, but it’s an emergency shelter in high demand, meaning victims have to move out after 30 days.
“For HCWC to ensure that the victims in the most danger have somewhere to go is critical,” says Gonzalez. That’s why HCWC plans to build 16 units of transitional housing which would provide 18-24 months of subsidized rent to individuals or families fleeing an abuser. This project began with a $25,000 donation from San Marcos Noon Lions Club and matching funds from the Hunter Henry, Jr. Estate for architectural drawings, engineering and a survey. We hope to complete the residences in the next two years.
Gonzalez concludes, “The growth in our area is positive in many ways, but we need everyone to engage in finding solutions to the lack of affordable housing. Lives depend on it.”
This article was featured in HCWC’s Fall 2015 Edition of the Networker. To read the full newsletter, visit our Newsletters page, and join our email list to receive the quarterly publication and occasional updates in your inbox.
Get Help Here
If you are in immediate danger, call 911.
If you need assistance, one of HCWC’s trained volunteers or staff members is available to help you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by calling our HELPline number: (512) 396-HELP (4357) or (800) 700-HCWC (4292).
If you are planning on leaving your batterer it is always advised that you speak to an advocate first to help you through the process. Please call HCWC at (512) 396-4357 for assistance in preparing to leave.
If you are outside of HCWC’s service area of Hays County and Caldwell County and need a referral to your closest Domestic Violence Program, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) twenty-four hours a day, 7 days a week.