Supporting Domestic Abuse Survivors During COVID-19
The intense pressures of COVID-19 have exacerbated domestic and family violence, along with addiction and mental health challenges. There has been a 30 percent increase in felony assaults during the months of the pandemic, and nearly twice as many domestic violence related deaths compared to 2019. The Washington Multi-Family Housing Association (WMFHA) continues to work closely with the Domestic Abuse Women's Network (DAWN) who is on the frontlines of this issue. DAWN has seen an increase in community needs in recent months and is focused on ensuring the community knows they are here to provide support and essential resources.
With people spending more and more time at home during the pandemic, we are closely monitoring the increase of domestic violence incidents from a housing perspective. The current eviction moratorium is intended to make sure that those most in need during the crisis are protected. However, as housing providers we know the broad nature of the policy has unfortunately also served to protect those who are taking advantage.
The current standard to terminate a rental agreement is so high that it takes something catastrophic to happen before someone is removed from the property. Unfortunately, this comes directly at the expense of those who are facing domestic violence and deserve a safe home. Violence can also easily extend to neighbors in apartment communities, putting them at risk as well.
In addition to limiting legitimate and necessary terminations of tenancy, the eviction moratorium also places limitations on the types of conversations housing providers can have with their residents. Chris Dobler, with Dobler Management Company, recently experienced a domestic violence issue in one of her South Sound properties. When a resident was experiencing threats of violence from a significant other, Dobler’s hands were effectively tied. The company had options available to help the survivor transition to a new property - but communicating this would have been outside the bounds of the moratorium.
Under RCW 59.18, survivors of domestic violence are given certain protections and can terminate their lease agreement to maintain their safety. However, they can still be held liable for damages caused by their perpetrators. In 2019, we advocated to go a step further and create a comprehensive mitigation fund so survivors can break their lease, keep their security deposit, and focus on their safety without being tied down with unnecessary financial burdens.
We continue to ask policymakers to look at real impacts of rental housing policies as we enter the ninth month of the pandemic. We support protections and assistance for those who are struggling during COVID-19, but we also seek updates to the law that allow us to do our jobs as housing providers and adequately support our tenants – especially when they require immediate intervention and support.
DAWN offers comprehensive resources for survivors of domestic violence. They have a 24-Hour Advocacy and Support Line available, as well as confidential support groups and legal services. While the pandemic has caused many things to go online, DAWN is reminding the community that they are never alone and support remains available through their organization, or their network of King County resources, for anyone who needs it.