Property Managers Face Challenges in Preparations for the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)

Property Manager Challenges

In 2013, Congress reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which is intended to support victims of domestic and dating violence, sexual assault and/or stalking, and to protect them from being denied housing or from losing their affordable housing. Prior to this reauthorization, VAWA only provided protections to those who lived in public housing and Section 8 programs, but the reauthorization expands VAWA to all HUD programs, Rural Development multifamily housing programs and the Housing Tax Credit (HTC) program.

VAWA legislation was, in part, prompted by high numbers of domestic violence incidents. The Ohio Attorney General's Office reported 76,416 incidents of domestic violence in 2017. This number is most likely an undercount, as many agencies do not report any statistics, and many individuals are also unlikely to report domestic assault. While the need for VAWA protections is clear, the ability of housing agencies to implement VAWA protocols, including reporting incidents or transferring residents, is unknown.

To help OHFA understand how recipients of HTC funds and other OHFA multifamily programs are handling these recent changes, OHFA's Office of Research and Analytics and Office of Multifamily Training and Technical Assistance implemented a VAWA industry survey. The survey was conducted during July and August 2018 and sent to 1,771 individuals, including on-site managers, compliance staff, owners, regional managers, developers and syndicators. The survey received 419 responses, a 24 percent response rate.

In the past year, respondents self-reported 471 VAWA cases, ranging from zero to 40 cases per respondent and averaging 1.5 cases per organization. Of these, 376 (80 percent) involved a resident requesting a transfer to a different unit. Many of these transfer cases were resolved with some sort of action (68 percent), but almost a third of these requests were resolved without action (32 percent).

Figure 1: VAWA transfer requests by resolution.

Of those that were resolved with action, almost 70 percent of actions were unit transfers, with the rest involving protection from lease enforcement, eviction and/or legal issues (24 percent) or being addressed with a safety plan or counseling (7 percent).

Among requests that were not acted upon, 39 percent of cases were dropped, 32 percent were unable to transfer due to lack of availability, 23 percent had tenants refuse to accept the assistance offered and six percent of transfers were terminated due to lack of eligibility. In one instance, the property manager denied the tenant assistance.

Given the high number of VAWA incidents and requests for transfer, perhaps unsurprisingly, most respondents (93 percent) were familiar with the regulations and requirements of VAWA. A slightly smaller majority was prepared to move VAWA victims, as 78 percent of respondents have an Emergency Transfer Plan in place (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Familiarity with implementing a VAWA transfer plan by industry role.
Very familiar: We have an emergency transfer plan (ETP) and have used it at least once.
Somewhat familiar: We have an ETP but have not received or covered a request.
Working on it: We are getting ready to prepare/implement an ETP.
Unclear: We are aware of VAWA, but we are not sure what we need to do.
No information: We are not aware of VAWA and its processes.

Yet, respondents still indicate they need more training and guidance on how to implement VAWA. Pamphlets and readings (69 percent) were the most popular medium used to educate respondents about VAWA and its policies. However, many indicated that they prefer in-group trainings and online webinars to pamphlets and readings or one-on-one instruction. When asked if the new VAWA policies are not a huge change from the way they were already operating, 51 percent of respondents disagreed with this statement. This means that many respondents claim they had to make a significant change to their policies to be VAWA compliant. Respondents also disagreed (52 percent) that HUD notices have made VAWA processes easier to implement. Thus, more clarification and guidance with VAWA policies are needed.

OHFA's use of the HUD 2013 VAWA Final Rule on all of its multifamily funding programs has allowed some managers and owners a smooth transition. However, some still need further training and guidance with VAWA. With this training, residents may be less likely to experience housing instability when violence occurs and households are forced to relocate. These results also indicate that there are high levels of policy awareness and compliance with VAWA, but further improvement is needed to meet our legal and moral obligation to the safety of Ohioans. Further research is needed on VAWA regulations and compliance and how other states have implemented VAWA.