Can your client prove he is, or she is, who they say they are?
HUD program administrators are obligated to determine this to the best of their ability. They are accountable for good stewardship of tax dollars. Thus, applicants for federally assisted housing need to be ready to document their eligibility for services. This includes proof of identity, such as a Social Security Card, birth certificate and Photo ID. These items become part of your client’s portfolio, meaning he or she will have all the necessary information in one place and on hand for completing housing paperwork.
There are some common forms the housing provider will ask your client to complete. A Family Summary Sheet collects the names, ages and sex of each member of the household. This snapshot of family composition determines the size of unit the housing provider can offer your client. For example, HUD dictates that a household of one parent and one child must have a two bedroom unit. Even if your client doesn’t mind living in a one bedroom unit with her child, it is a HUD violation to rent such a unit to her.
There are exceptions to the bedroom to family size ratio. The ages and genders of the whole family are factors. The housing agency’s intake worker will review what kind of unit is appropriate. Unfortunately, if a unit is available, but it’s the wrong size according to HUD, your client will have to wait for one that is the right size. HUD rules are full of little idiosyncrasies such as this. The forms may be tedious but program administrators are just the messengers who must get them from you to deliver to HUD upon request.
Similarly, the housing providers will ask your client to fill in a Race & Ethnic Data Reporting Form. This form is optional. HUD expects the providers to ask clients for the information. The information is only used in the aggregate to show trends and project need. No individual identifying information is used. Even so, if your client is uncomfortable completing it she has the right to refuse.
One form she can’t refuse is the Citizenship Declaration. The form outlines the documentation your client must provide to demonstrate she has a green card or is otherwise a noncitizen with eligible immigration status. Don’t despair if your client is not a documented immigrant. She has options.
Threat of deportation is a powerful tool used by abusers. Many use it successfully to retain control. You must educate your client she can obtain subsidized housing anyway. When VAWA passed in January, 2013 it retained protections for victims who are abused whether or not they are legal citizens.
She is not automatically ineligible for certain homeless programs for special needs individuals and funded through the HEARTH (McKinney-Vento) Act. These include the Shelter Plus Care and Supportive Housing Programs. She may also be eligible for some HOME based rental assistance. Prepare your client with the facts and the paperwork you need to work with a housing provider who is unfamiliar with rights your client does have.
Obtaining publicly funded services for undocumented immigrants is a tricky issue. I don’t have the experience or legal expertise to guide service providers’ actions. What I can do is offer links to sites I found to make it easier for you to understand homeless programs for undocumented immigrants.
1. The National Alliance to End Homelessness posted a slide show that is a simple introduction.
2. The U.S. government’s Immigration and Citizenship site explains the documentation your client can obtain to gain work visas, green cards or other ways to acquire the legal right to be in the U.S. There are a variety of visas for different kinds of family or work situations. Start here for a good overview.
3. If you followed the debate over renewing VAWA you know access to U-Visas held up passage. The U-Visa provides temporary immigration benefits to aliens who are victims of qualifying criminal activity, and to their qualifying family members, as appropriate. The US Immigration Department offers these as part of its Humanitarian Programs.
4. The Immigrant Legal Resource Center provides clear explanations of immigrant rights. The ILRC site has a wealth of advice and forms. It also has training and technical assistance for staff development and optimizing your skills in helping clients who do not have a protected status yet. On June 26th ILRC is offering a webinar on the fundamentals of U-Visas. You can register for it at http://www.ilrc.org/trainings-webinars/seminars/u-visa-fundamentals
I recommend caution about how you help your client escape her abuser without the threat of deportation. As always consult with your local Continuum of Care administrator for information about special needs housing program administrators. If your community has a pro bono service through a Legal Aid society or a similar organization consult with them on protecting your client. Your client has the right to escape harm without facing deportation.