I wrote a piece about this phenomenon over a year ago, but at the time I didn’t think it was very wide-spread. Now I’m beginning to think I was wrong. Read about it here (The Village Voice, 3/9/11).
The Voicearticle is one of those catch-all horror story pieces, this time about some of the awful things landlords encounter in dealing with deadbeat tenants – you know, little things like getting stabbed to death. So, in full David Letterman mode, the article is entitled “NYC’s Ten Worst Tenants.”
And sure enough, right in there among the “hoarders” who leave apartments crammed floor to ceiling with trash, and the hucksters and frauds, are the Domestic Violence Fakers. What does DV have to do with landlords and their myriad woes?
Well, in New York, there’s something called a Section 8 subsidy. That means that the city subsidizes a tenant’s rent under certain circumstances of need. So, if a person is too poor to pay, disabled, etc., then he/she can get an apartment for which the tenant pays some of the rent and the city pays the rest.
Like most such programs, the list of those who’ve been approved for subsidies is far longer than the list of available subsidized apartments. That is, the demand for apartments far exceeds the supply. The result is extremely long lists of people waiting for Section 8 apartments and very long waiting times.
There are apparently some 130,000 people on the waiting list currently. That list promises to grow as state budget shortfalls squeeze government spending in the years to come.
Enter, stage left, domestic violence law. As in other areas of law, with Section 8 claimants, domestic violence victims don’t have to take their place at the end of the list and wait for their name to come up. On the contrary, they go to the head of the line. Like DV claimants in immigration cases, these people get special treatment.
And where there’s a benefit to be had, you can bet there are people ready, willing and able to fraudulently abuse the system. The Voice article tells about several such people.
Latonya Malone, 26, worked as a security guard at Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center in Manhattan. A state employee since 2002, she earned a $35,000-a-year salary, so in 2007 she applied for a Section 8 apartment. Victims of domestic violence can point to their dire situations to get Section 8 subsidies, for which there’s a huge waiting list. In support of her application, she included copies of an order of protection issued by the Bronx County Criminal Court and a
domestic-violence incident report issued by the New York Police Department. According to Malone’s paperwork, “John Brown had beaten her.”
It turned out that “John Brown” was fictitious and that both the order of protection and the domestic-violence incident report had been forged, according to prosecutors. Last October, Malone admitted to investigators that she had paid $500 to a woman named Cynthia who was selling Section 8 paperwork.
So it’s not just the individuals bypassing everyone else on the Section 8 list via false claims of DV who are scamming the system. There’s also good old American free enterprise at work too. The “woman named Cynthia” apparently has her own little cottage industry busily working to provide all comers with the documentation they need to get Section 8 preferences.
At least one person views the Domestic Violence Faker as the lowest of the low.
Rose Gill Hearn, commissioner of the city’s Department of Investigation, says she finds the domestic-violence fakers to be especially repugnant: “I mean, there are real victims of domestic violence out there,” she tells the Voice.
If that’s not bad enough, and it surely is (what’s next? stealing old people’s social security checks?), there’s also the fact that, once again, when domestic violence is claimed, legal niceties recede into the background. It’s not just the preference given to DV claimants that’s problematical, although I wouldn’t be surprised to find people who’ve patiently waited their turn on the list resenting those who go to the head of the line.
The ease with which the fraudsters play the system is hard to miss. And, when you think about it, how hard could it be to create some paperwork with the appropriate letterheads that would pass muster with some overworked, underpaid clerical worker doing dubious battle with a list 130,000 names long? Like taking candy from a baby is my guess.
And it’s hard to ignore the similarity between the ease with which these false claims are made with the ease with which false claims are made in divorce cases. Neither instance requires much or anything in the way of objectively verifiable proof. Both confer significant benefits on claimants and both cause significant harm to others.
At some point, the words “domestic violence” will need to stop being the shibboleth they’ve always been. For a long time now, we’ve treated those words as a sort of magical incantation with the power to work wonders.
We need to put that old discredited notion aside and start treating domestic violence for what it is in life and like any other claim in law, i.e. subject to the same rules of evidence and burdens of proof as every other claim. Until we do, domestic violence claims will continue to be abused by the unscrupulous.
Ask yourself, could it ever have been any other way?
Thanks to Robert for the heads-up.