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House VAWA Bill Includes Impractical Housing Provisions

VAWA Bill

The House of Representatives approved H.R. 1585, the “Violence Against Women Reauthorization (VAWA) Act of 2019,” on April 4. Our industry strongly supports the goals of VAWA and have worked closely with the Congress and the advocacy community to ensure that victims are protected. However, HR 1585 includes significant and problematic expansions of VAWA’s existing housing provisions.

Specifically, the new measure broadens the scope of the law to include new housing programs not previously subject to the Act’s requirements, imposes new resident screening provisions; changes emergency transfer requirements; and includes annual mandatory domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking training for staff engaged in resident services.

NAA and NMHC’s specific concerns with the House-passed bill include:    

Denial of Assistance/Resident Screening Provisions. The bill establishes inconsistent resident screening procedures and conflicts with existing HUD standards and guidance.

Emergency Transfers. Expands the provisions regarding emergency transfers, without taking into consideration current law and differing public and private housing rules, regulations and abilities.

Emergency Transfer Vouchers/Training. Allows victims access to Emergency Transfer Vouchers using a $20 million set-aside without regard to already strained voucher program funding and programmatic barriers that challenge the use of existing programs in this way.  Instead we urge the establishment of a new program for domestic violence victims, similar to the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Voucher (VASH) program, that could be specifically tailored to victim’s needs.  The bill also mandates annual training for housing providerswithout consideration as to the necessary funding and resources needed for program implementation

Administrative Responsibilities. The scale and scope of both the current and new VAWA provisions are vast.  The funding and resources required to implement the program successfully will place more pressure on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, an agency that is already underfunded and understaffed. 

NAA, NMHC, and the real estate industry sent a letter to Congress outlining concerns with the legislation and urging Congress to consider the differing characteristics, roles and capabilities of various housing providers and property types, as well as the disparate responsibilities of private versus public housing providers. While there are several controversial titles in the bill, a provision precluding abusers’ access to weapons, proved to be one of the major political discussion points during debate on the measure.

Senator Graham, (R-SC), Chair of the Judiciary Committee, along with Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Senator Feinstein (D-CA), are expected to lead the effort in the Senate. Initial indications suggest the Senate is planning on developing their own VAWA legislative package.

NAA and NMHC will keep members apprised of the ongoing activities related to VAWA.