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Federal housing needs MeToo movement, Velazquez says

September 28, 2018 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez says “We need to ensure that when it comes to the housing sphere, we are taking a hard look” at potential abuse. Photo courtesy of Velazquez’s office
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The #MeToo movement is coming to America’s public housing programs, according to a Brooklyn lawmaker who is pushing the federal government to dig deeper into sexual harassment complaints by tenants.

The day before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court and the testimony of alleged sexual assault victim Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez introduced a bill aimed at combating the sexual harassment.

Velazquez’s bill, the “Sexual Harassment Awareness and Prevention Act” would require the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to work with other agencies to collect information on sexual harassment and abuse claims related to housing.

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Velazquez (D-Sunset Park-Lower Manhattan) said she introduced the legislation because housing needs a #MeToo moment, too. She introduced the bill on Sept. 26.

“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,” she said in a statement.

The government should be working to make sure that housing programs across the country come under additional scrutiny, according to Velazquez.

“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,” she stated.

Many tenants who are sexually harassed do not report the incidents out of fear of being evicted,  Velazquez said.

Specifically, her bill would require HUD to collect data on every sexual harassment complaint, commission the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study the effectiveness of existing programs the agency has in place to address sexual harassment and set up a task force on that would put GAO’s recommendations into practice.

“The first step to solving any problem is fully grasping its scope,” Velazquez said. She went on to call for federal agencies to “step up and tackle this issue head on.”

Velázquez’s bill has been endorsed by several organizations, including 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.

In her statement, Velazquez was optimistic about her timing.

“We are approaching a long overdue turning point in American culture with regards to sexual misconduct,” she said.


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