Velázquez Seeks to Address Housing Sexual Harassment
Washington, DC –As the “Me Too” era draws badly needed attention to the longstanding problem of sexual misconduct, Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY) has introduced legislation to combat sexual harassment related to housing. The “Sexual Harassment Awareness and Prevention Act” would ensure the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) proactively works with other agencies to collect information on sexual harassment and abuse claims related to housing.
“If the ‘Me Too’ movement has taught us anything it is this: anywhere there is an imbalance of power – from Hollywood to Wall Street to the workplace – there’s room for abuse and, sadly, there’s the potential for sexual misconduct,” said Velázquez. “We need to ensure that when it comes to the housing sphere we are taking a hard look at these kinds of abuse and that we are standing with survivors, whether it is a tenant in public housing who is harassed by a landlord, a Section 8 recipient who is subject to unwanted advances from a voucher administrator or someone who is treated inappropriately when applying for a government-backed mortgage.”
Velázquez’s bill comes on the heels of a BBC report that exposed the dark reality that many women seeking housing assistance are coerced into sexual favors. These incidents often go unreported due to fear of losing their housing benefits or suffering other retaliation. According to the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, there were 800 complaints related to sex in Fiscal Year 2016. However, Velázquez argued those numbers likely do not provide a full accounting of the problem and said that there needs to be more specific data gathered on the topic.
“The first step to solving any problem is fully grasping its scope and this bill would ensure federal agencies are proactively looking at this issue,” Velázquez added. “We need a full accounting of how widespread this problem is and that requires different federal agencies to step up and tackle this issue head on.”
Velázquez’s bill, “The Sexual Harassment Awareness and Prevention Act,” would take three important steps towards preventing sexual harassment for residents receiving federal housing assistance. First, it would require HUD to collect demographic and programmatic data on complaints of sexual harassment, filling a current lack of data. Second, it would commission a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report to study the effectiveness of existing initiatives at HUD to address sexual harassment, mandating that recommendations for improvement be issued. Finally, the bill would establish an Interagency Task Force on Prohibitions Against Sexual Harassment that would implement the GAO’s recommendations and monitor any ongoing issues.
“We are approaching a long overdue turning point in American culture with regards to sexual misconduct,” Velázquez added. “Part of this conversation is realizing that these types of abuses are sadly prevalent in almost every part of our society. We need to recognize that includes housing and federal housing benefits and work together to examine and, ultimately, address problems in that sphere.”
Velázquez’s bill has been endorsed by the National Fair Housing Alliance, the National Housing Law Project, the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, the National Network to End Domestic Violence, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, and the National Low Income Housing Coalition. The Congresswoman is the third most senior Democrat on the Financial Services Committee and the only New York City Member of Congress to serve on the Housing Subcommittee.