By Raquel Paulino, HousingLink Training and Technical Assistance Manager
At a recent conference sponsored by Fordham Law School’s Feerick Center for Social Justice, I participated in a panel on consumer debt, addressing issues related to economic abuse and domestic violence. Economic abuse is a common type of abuse among survivors of domestic violence; identity theft and forced/coerced debt have been on the rise in recent years. So much so, that both identity theft and forced/coerced debt have been added to the list of family offenses on family offense petitions. Family offense petitions are filed when a family member claims that another family member committed an act against them. For more information please consult a family law attorney.
As the Training and Technical Assistance Manager for New Destiny’s HousingLink program, I conduct “housing tips” workshops for both clients and advocates at each of the five borough Family Justice Centers. The workshops address housing options, housing barriers, housing discrimination and the landlord application. I address economic abuse in each workshop by identifying credit as a housing barrier, emphasizing the importance for clients to pull their credit report before the housing search. Many clients have either never seen their credit report or thought about the fact that they might be a victim of any identity theft. Fortunately, there are financial counselors at each Family Justice Center that can help clients to address credit issues if needed. Working with the clients, I encourage them to meet with a counselor to go over their credit report and fix any potential issues that might be a red flag for landlords.
One of the biggest challenges I face is talking to clients who need housing immediately because they are in an unsafe situation or because they need to leave their shelter. Poor credit is a major issue that inhibits access to permanent housing. Credit is not considered a form of housing discrimination; landlords will pull a credit report regardless of whether a client is able to pay rent through verifiable income or a rental subsidy. Fixing credit issues takes time that many clients do not have. Another challenge is that case managers in both shelters and at the Family Justice Centers tend to be overworked and often do not have enough time and therefore unable to provide in-depth one-on-one assistance.
One possible solution going forward might be to increase professional development opportunities for both case managers and staff at shelters. If at least one shelter staff can screen clients for economic abuse and pull their credit report before they commence their housing search, this would help clients address potential barriers before they start their housing search. The Family Justice Centers are addressing economic abuse by providing on-site staff and off-site partners with advanced trainings that focus on consumer debt.