A lack of affordable rental options in Rock County leaves victims of domestic violence with nowhere to go

JANESVILLE, Wis. – Those who work with victims of domestic violence in Janesville say a lack of available housing has made the process of finding new places to live nearly impossible.

Jessi Luepnitz, who serves as director of crisis services for the YWCA of Rock County, says the problem has become worse than ever before in recent months.

“The available housing in rock county is less than one percent right now,” Luepnitz said.

YWCA of Rock County has more than ten transitional living apartments in Janesville, where victims and their families stay while trying to establish permanent housing.

However, as permanent housing becomes harder to come by, they’re struggling to serve as many people.

“We are serving less people in our shelter because people are staying in shelter longer, because of a lack of housing,” Luepnitz said.

Housing isn’t just a concern for victims of domestic violence, according to Janesville Housing Services Director Kelly Bedessem. It’s a concern for everyone.

“Anyone who’s got to find a place to live quickly, it probably isn’t going to happen here,” she said.  “You have to be at the right place at the right time.”

The lack of supply has allowed landlords to become more strict when it comes to who they accept, Bedessem says. While state law prevents a landlord from discriminating against a victim of domestic violence, Luepnitz says it still happens.

“If there is a record of domestic violence in the victims history, then a landlord could use that against that person,” she said. “A landlord could say ‘I don’t want an unsafe situation on my property,’ or ‘I don’t want the police on my property because it could make the neighborhood look bad.'”

She says manipulation of the system such as this has led to just 30 percent of domestic violence victims being able to find long-term housing. The other 70 percent are likely to stay with friends and family, another shelter, or wind up homeless.

“I think if a landlord was able to take a step back and look at someone else’s situation, not as a landlord but as a victim, maybe they would give someone a second chance,” Luepnitz said.

Currently, the City of Janesville is working on plans to create a 92-unit affordable housing apartment complex near the city’s downtown, however the plan is still awaiting approval.

“Just having additional housing will help substantially,” said Kelly Bedessem. “Once we have some additional units available, it will open that market up and people will have somewhere to live in our community.”