Making Justice Real

The Official Blog of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia

Lawsuit Filed Alleging D.C. Housing Authority Fails to Protect Rights of Domestic Violence Survivors

Yesterday, Legal Aid and Alston & Bird LLP announced that they filed a complaint in federal court against the D.C. Housing Authority and its Executive Director, Tyrone Garrett, alleging that the agency fails to comply with local and federal laws and regulations protecting the rights of survivors of domestic violence who participate in housing subsidy programs. The plaintiff (to whom we will refer to as Jane Smith, to protect her identity) also filed a motion for a preliminary injunction.

Ms. Smith and her then-husband were participants in the Housing Authority’s Housing Choice Voucher Program (“HCVP”), which provides low-income D.C. residents with rental assistance based on their household income. In September 2018, Ms. Smith’s then-husband threatened her life in the presence of two of their children. Ms. Smith called the police, filed a police report, and sought and obtained a civil protection order, a process that removed her abuser from the home. Shortly thereafter, she secured a divorce.

Under the Violence Against Women Act, if a family receiving housing assistance breaks up as a result of domestic violence, the local public housing authority must ensure that the survivor retains assistance. In this instance, the D.C. Housing Authority failed to do so. It denied Ms. Smith’s request for continued assistance and her request for a fair hearing. Although the Housing Authority issued her a “temporary” voucher, acknowledging that she met the VAWA requirements, it refused to adjust the assistance so that it would be based on her income alone. In February 2019, the agency stopped making payments to Ms. Smith’s landlord under the voucher altogether, which places her and her two children at imminent risk of homelessness.

Ms. Smith filed this suit to enforce her right to continue receiving assistance under the HCVP as a victim of domestic violence, to have the amount of assistance she receives recalculated so that it is based on her household’s new income, and to ensure that the Housing Authority complies with the law and due process for others, going forward.

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