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Weil and Legal Aid Society Settle Lawsuit Against City on Behalf of Domestic Violence Survivors

Weil and The Legal Aid Society settled a lawsuit against the New York City Department of Housing and Preservation (HPD). In this litigation brought on behalf of B.D., a survivor of domestic violence, Weil and Legal Aid challenged HPD’s practice of excluding domestic violence survivors from Section 8 voucher “bifurcation” hearings that determine whether or not a survivor is able to stay in their home. Weil served as counsel throughout the litigation and helped negotiate the settlement.

In New York City, HPD administers a Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8), which provides assistance to eligible low- and moderate-income families to rent housing in the private market. As the lawsuit alleged, when survivors reported instances of domestic violence to HPD, only the abusers were notified of their due process rights. The city provided abusers with official notice of the bifurcation hearing and an opportunity to share their side of the story. But HPD did not notify plaintiff B.D. and other survivors of the bifurcation hearings, depriving survivors of an opportunity to be heard.

Weil and Legal Aid argued that the Violence Against Women Act provides survivors a property interest in Section 8 vouchers, even when the voucher lists only the abuser as head of household, and that this policy violated survivors’ due process rights under the U.S. Constitution and Fair Housing Act.

Per the terms of the settlement, HPD agreed to create a new Section 8 voucher preference category for domestic violence survivors. This preference category enables a survivor to obtain a new voucher in their own name without waiting for HPD to hold hearings and terminate the abuser’s Section 8 voucher. This policy change helps hundreds of New Yorkers who have been unable to secure housing while escaping their abusers.

Colin McGrath, a Litigation associate, prepared and argued the briefing. The Weil team also included partners Diane Sullivan and David Singh and associates Frank Ungerer and Daniel Wiesenfeld.