January 26, 2017 (Update 2022)
As a key part of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) passed by Congress in 1996 and 2003, battered immigrant spouses and children abused by their U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident spouses or parents who had filed applications for immigration relief under VAWA have access to public and assisted housing. For immigrant victims who are pursuing immigration benefits under VAWA, Congress acted to ensure that victims who are on a path to gaining lawful permanent residency under VAWA’s protections would be able to access lifesaving help from the public benefits safety net, including public and assisted housing. Victims needed access to housing to be able to separate from their abusers. These protections helped four limited groups of battered immigrants that meet HUD and VAWA’s definition of VAWA self-petitioner:
- VAWA self-petitioners
- VAWA cancellation of removal applicants
- VAWA suspension of deportation applicants
- Immigrant spouses and children who has been subjected to battering or extreme cruelty by their U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident spouses or parents who had an approved I-130 family based visa petition file on their behalf.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a memo, Eligibility of Battered Noncitizen Self-Petitioners for Financial Assistance Under Section 214 of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1980 (VAWA Self-Petitioner Cover Letter (December 22, 2016)), which confirmed HUD’s position that immigrant domestic violence and child abuse victims who suffered battering or extreme cruelty perpetrated by a Untied States Citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR) spouse, parent, or step-parent who have specified types of pending immigration cases filed with DHS are eligible to apply for and receive housing assistance under Section 214 of the Housing and Communality Development Act.
Specifically it clarifies that VAWA self-petitioners can indicate they are in “satisfactory immigration status” when applying for assistance or continued assistance from Section 214-covered housing providers (this includes public and multifamily housing). Under this memo VAWA self-petitioners, VAWA cancellation of removal, VAWA suspension of deportation, and approved family-based visa petition applicants who have been battered or subjected to extreme cruelty by their U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse, parent, or step-parent are able to stay in public and assisted housing units when the abuser is removed from the unit by a protection order and will also be able to apply for 214 benefits on their own behalf. Battered immigrant spouses and children of citizens and lawful permanent residents will no longer be subject to proration.
HUD also issued a notice, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Self-Petitioner Verification Procedures, which details the procedures that public housing agencies must follow when an applicant, a resident, or a tenant requests admission or continued residency as a result of being a VAWA self-petitioner. Specifically, it provides the special procedures for VAWA self-petitioner victims in the HUD required verification process using the Department of Homeland Security’s Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) System.
In addition, the notice stated that once a public housing provider receives documentation related to a VAWA self-petition case, the housing provider is prohibited from requesting additional information aside from that necessary to complete the verification. This includes a prohibition on requesting proof of abuse, since DHS is responsible for the adjudication of abuse in VAWA self-petition cases. Ultimately, if a VAWA self-petition is verified through this process, then the applicant is immediately eligible for housing and cannot be required to submit to the housing provider evidence of battery or extreme cruelty.
There is only one exception to this prohibition. Some battered immigrant housing applicants will have I-130 family based visa applications filed with the Department of Homeland Security. Adjudication of I-130 cases does not include a DHS adjudication of battering or extreme cruelty. Thus, once a housing provider receives DHS verification of an approved I-130 case, the battered immigrant housing applicant will be required to provide evidence of “battery or extreme cruelty” before becoming eligible for housing benefits. DHS “any credible evidence” rules apply to the forms of evidence that victims can provide to prove the battering or extreme cruelty. For information on how to prove battering or extreme cruelty to HUD for family based visa petition (I-130) spouses and children see: Eligibility of Battered Immigrants Spouses and Children With Family Based Visa Petitions for Public and Assisted Housing: Determinations of Battering or Extreme Cruelty
VAWA self-petitioners and abused spouses and children of citizens and lawful permanent residents with approved I-130 family based visa petitions qualify for the Housing Choice Voucher Program. Trafficking victims with bona fide determinations or continued presence who have received an HHS certification letter are also eligible for this program.
All VAWA self-petitioners, abused spouses and children with approved I-130 cases, bona fide T visa applicants, and continued presence recipients are eligible for all housing described in Section 214 of the Housing Act including but not limited to public and assisted housing, the Housing Choice Voucher Program, Emergency Housing Vouchers, Section 8 Housing Vouchers. Questions about public & assisted housing can be found at the Emergency Housing Voucher FAQ.
VAWA self-petitioners, abused spouses and children with approved family based visa petitions (I-130), bona fide T visa applicants and continued presence recipients will all need to obtain and provide to HUD a social security number. Victims whose immigration cases have progressed to the point where they are granted work authorization can file for a work authorized social security number (SSN). Some VAWA self-petitioners who are eligible for housing will need to obtain non-work SSNs because they are waiting (up to 24 months) for their VAWA self-petition to be adjudicated. NIWAP’s tool Obtaining Non-work Social Security Numbers Needed by VAWA Self-Petitioners to Maintain Public and Assisted Housing provides step by step instructions to help advocates and attorneys obtain non-work social security numbers for VAWA self-petitioners receiving public or assisted housing.
Information on access to shelter and transitional housing for immigrant and LEP victims is posted at the following locations: Joint Agency Letter On Shelters, NHLP’s Immigrant Housing Eligibility Chart, and Transitional Housing and Immigration Requirements: Other Assistance Programs for Housing and Homelessness (ESG, CDBG, HOME, FEMA, CRF, and ERAP)
If you are an advocate or an attorney working on a case of an immigrant victim currently living in public or assisted housing contact the National Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Project (NIWAP) for technical assistance on how your client can use this memo to stay in the housing unit and avoid proration. Contact NIWAP for technical assistance at 202-274-4457 or by email at email@example.com.
Immigrant survivors are legally eligible for emergency shelter and transitional housing programs including the programs funded by CAREs Act, State and other COVID-19 related funding. Immigrant survivors are also eligible for CARES Act, Emergency Solutions Gran funded housing including but not limited to Emergency Shelter, Street Outreach Services, Safe Haven, Rapid Re-Housing and Transitional Housing. The few transitional housing programs that have immigrant restrictions (those that provide rental assistance payments) are open to VAWA self-petitioners, human trafficking victims, refugees and victims with another form of qualifying immigration status. There are also a number of affordable housing programs that do not have immigrant restrictions including Low Income Housing Tax Credit, Section 202 housing for the elderly, Section 811 housing for persons with disabilities, Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS (HOPWA), Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), Indian Housing and some rental assistance programs operated by states and localities. For information on immigrant survivors legal options for housing during the COVID-19 pandemic see
Safe Housing Partnerships Newsletter Fall 2020 – What Housing Assistance is Available to Immigrant Survivors During COVID-19 (March 2021)
NIWAP has also developed two COVID-19 related publications that can assist you in your work with immigrant victims: