An interview with Daya client advocate Madiha Haque.
WHY IS HOUSING A BARRIER FOR DAYA CLIENTS IN PARTICULAR?
Most people don’t think of housing being linked to domestic violence, but the reality is that domestic violence is the third leading cause of homelessness among families nationwide. Most of our clients are not familiar with the various resources available in the U.S. and may not know what they can ask for when fleeing an abusive situation. Many of the individuals we work with are first-time renters in the US, and are not familiar with the process of apartment hunting, deposits, etc. Part of my job is to guide them through this so they can learn the skills for next time.
Many of our clients may not have credit because they are new to the country, or their immigration status may be connected to their abuser. Some complexes will not rent to undocumented or those without established credit. There is also an emotional toll of living alone for many clients. In South Asia, most women grow up in joint families, and after marriage go straight from their parent’s home to their in-laws. The idea of living alone is incredibly frightening to many of them, and it’s important to validate and recognize this as they transition into living on their own for the first time.
WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST BARRIERS DAYA CLIENTS FACE WHEN ACCESSING HOUSING?
The biggest barriers are the mandatory income requirements, (requiring employment) and credit issues. Even though both of our housing programs provide rental assistance, many apartments still require clients to be working and earn a salary at least three times their rent. I find this to be especially unfair since the main reason our clients need rental assistance is because they are unable to work or are being underpaid and are looking to increase their salary! Getting a landlord or an apartment manager to accept our rental assistance programs requires a lot of relationship-building on my end. Once property managers are familiar with Daya and the kind of clients we work with, they are more open to accepting a rental assistance program.
COULD YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT DAYA'S HOUSING PROGRAM?
Daya has two different housing programs, and they complement each other very well in terms of meeting our clients’ varied needs. One program is a federally funded HUD rapid re-housing program (RRH) that can provide up to twelve months of rental assistance for clients that are recently fleeing domestic violence. During these twelve months, clients can budget and plan so that they can take over the lease once the assistance ends. The other program we have is our supportive-housing program that is generally for three to six months. This program is more flexible in that it prioritizes helping both clients that are recently fleeing domestic violence as well as those who are not. I really like this because it can take clients several years to stabilize economically after leaving an abusive situation. We can also use this funding to supplement RRH clients with disabilities as they transition into permanent supportive housing programs. This kind of flexibility is made possible by funding from local foundations as well as individual donors. Additionally, our relationships with other agencies are key. I am a part of a housing collaborative with other local DV organizations that receive RRH funding. As a Daya representative, I give feedback to the other agencies on how to create culturally competent housing assessments and services for Houston’s broader immigrant community.
CAN YOU GIVE US AN EXAMPLE OF HOW SIGNIFICANT HOUSING CAN BE FOR A CLIENT?
One of the clients I was working with had been living in numerous shelters with her four children for almost a year. In fact she was one of the first clients I helped transition into the program. When we first started our RRH program, we assessed her and she transitioned from the shelter into an apartment. Once she found stable housing, she was able to start looking for work and begin addressing the trauma she experienced. While in our housing program, we worked together to address financial literacy skills like saving, budgeting, etc. By the time the rental assistance ended, she was able to save money, buy a car, and pay the rent on her own.
WHAT CHALLENGES REMAIN?
We need to continue educating the broader community about how affordable housing is an issue that impacts South Asian survivors in Houston. And we also need to continue educating mainstream agencies about what domestic violence looks like in our community so survivors can receive the appropriate interventions and not be overlooked. While we are really lucky to have funding for our housing programs, as with most things in social services, we are not able to always meet the financial demands. One of the biggest gaps is permanent supportive housing. Many of the clients we work with have permanent physical and mental disabilities that are a direct result of their abuse (i.e. traumatic brain injuries, PTSD, etc), and these can impact their ability to earn income for the rest of their lives. These clients would greatly benefit from a permanent housing solution, but there are very limited options in Houston.