Pilot Study Explores Allocating Housing Resources to Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence

New research published in Housing Policy Debate, No Easy Decisions: Developing an Evidence-Informed Process to Allocate Housing Choice Vouchers to Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence,” details the development of a pilot program for allocating housing choice vouchers (HCVs) to survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV) experiencing housing instability. The authors conducted literature reviews, expert interviews, and stakeholder meetings in a southwestern U.S. city, then developed two screening tools to select survivors for the HCV program. While the study resulted in an innovative and evidence-informed screening process, many barriers remain to providing safe, stable housing for IPV survivors.

Earlier research on best practices for assessing housing needs among IPV survivors, though limited, has suggested that survivors of IPV appear to experience high rates of housing instability and homelessness. Multiple studies have found that women who have experienced IPV are 3-5 times more likely to experience housing instability. IPV survivors may be forced to leave their homes in high-danger situations, may experience increased risk of eviction, or may experience adverse health outcomes that undermine their ability to maintain stable housing.

While housing programs tailored to survivors consist largely of emergency shelter and transitional programs, domestic violence (DV) programs are beginning to adapt Housing First and Rapid Re-Housing models to serve this population. To explore this further, the study included conversations with directors of established DV Housing First Programs to determine how they allocate resources and learn about housing challenges specific to IPV survivors. The directors emphasized common barriers to housing success, including returning to an abusive partner, harmful actions from ex-partners, substance use, and limited income. Finally, the authors gathered input from local social service practitioners to ensure the program was responsive to local needs and policies.

The researchers used data from their literature review and conversations to create two forms to screen IPV survivors for the HCV program. The screeners were intended to identify clients most likely to experience housing success in the HCV program. A self-referral form included questions on demographics, socioeconomic status, housing, family characteristics, social and community support, IPV factors, behavioral health, and service experiences and needs. A second form was completed by a DV advocate to provide more information on the applicant’s likelihood of maintaining a housing voucher, though this form was not used in the selection process.

The program received 92 referrals during a week-long application window. The screenings were scored on a scale from 1 to 39, with 39 points indicating the highest likelihood of housing success. Given the limited number of vouchers (25), the authors excluded individuals with the lowest scores, as they faced significant barriers to maintaining stable housing through the voucher program. The authors felt these individuals would best be served in DV residential programs that provided intensive case management services, including services to plan for a transition to long-term housing. Of the remaining 61 applications, 25 were randomly selected to receive HCVs, and others were placed on a waiting list until vouchers became available.

The authors identified various implications for housing IPV survivors. First, the screening tool had some limitations, including its length, the limited accuracy of self-reporting, and the fact that the target population was not involved in designing the forms. Future efforts should include IPV survivors in the development of screening tools and should consider the time and effort required to complete screenings. The authors also identified limitations in working across DV and housing programs, which typically work independently of one another. A primary example of this was the lack of understanding among housing staff about the Violence Against Women Act and its implications for the HCV application process. For example, to confirm that an abusive partner would not live in the unit, the public housing authority required a letter from that partner, an application for formal separation, or a restraining order. These requirements violate VAWA protections, which assert survivors only need to provide a VAWA self-certification.

Finally, the authors encountered a moral dilemma of limited resource allocation in which they attempted to balance applicant needs with other priorities from the city and local DV programs. More robust housing programs and increased housing options for IPV survivors are needed to address this limitation.

The article can be found at: https://bit.ly/3hQlHzT