Abusers may control funds needed for deposit, making housing difficult to obtain

By ANNMARIE TIMMINS

New Hampshire Bulletin

Published: 06-19-2023 4:53 PM

The state looks to the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence to assist victims, from running a 24-hour crisis line to providing emergency shelter. It’s also a partner in helping survivors of abuse avoid homelessness. 

Housing can be especially hard to find for survivors whose abuser has limited their access to money for rent or caused them to have poor credit scores.

The Executive Council approved a request from the Department of Health and Human Services Wednesday to continue a project that helps survivors not only find housing and pay rent but also learn to manage money. 

That’s a significant need because the vast majority of survivors who come to the coalition for help have been a victim of economic abuse in addition to physical or sexual abuse, said Rachel Duffy, housing and economic justice manager for the coalition.

They have little experience with finances because their abusers denied them access to bank accounts, she said. And, they have low credit scores because their abusers put their names on credit cards and failed to pay them. Or, abusers default on utility bills that bear both their names.

“Our advocates have been very … strong in advocating with landlords,” Duffy said. The coalition’s advocates have done community forums to meet with landlords to build trust and educate them on the financial abuse victims experience. That work continues. 

The state’s 3 percent vacancy rate for rentals is one more hurdle. 

“Survivors are victims of economic justice, and (landlords) can’t always understand that,” Duffy said.

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While the coalition continues to look for landlords willing to work with it, it’s had success with several, Duffy said. 

Since the “Rapid Re-Housing” project began in 2019, the coalition has helped 30 families comprising 64 individuals escape an abusive situation and find sustainable housing, she said. In its request to renew the program for four years, the department told executive councilors the $1 million in federal funding will assist 16 families or up to 29 individuals annually.

To qualify for assistance someone must be fleeing or attempting to flee domestic violence while homeless or at imminent risk of becoming homeless, according to the department’s request. Duffy said many who seek help are single mothers who need affordable child care to find work, a challenge so great the Legislature devoted considerable attention to it this year and included money in its budget to expand child care options and reduce the financial burden on families.

Assistance includes help with rent, connections to community services, and case management to help an individual or family secure permanent housing and develop skills to live independently. Survivors learn how to budget as well, Duffy said.

Survivors can get up to two years of rental assistance and case management with an option of continuing case management for an additional six months, she said.

The council also approved the department’s request on Wednesday to renew its contract with the coalition to continue its emergency assistance for victims of domestic and sexual violence. That $3.6 million award will be spread over the next two years and is expected to help more than 11,300 victims in that time.

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