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Supportive Housing Helping Domestic Violence Survivors and Their Children Recover and Thrive in the Bronx

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Home > Case Studies > Supportive Housing Helping Domestic Violence Survivors and Their Children Recover and Thrive in the Bronx


Supportive Housing Helping Domestic Violence Survivors and Their Children Recover and Thrive in the Bronx


Domestic violence survivors have unique needs for affordable supportive housing. In New York City, domestic violence is the largest single cause of family homelessness, responsible for 41 percent of shelter entries. To successfully leave their abusers, many survivors cut their social ties and support, abandon their belongings, and have limited financial resources, which often lands them and their children in shelters. New Destiny Housing launched in New York City in 1994, when it opened its first shelter for domestic violence survivors, and the organization now builds supportive affordable housing for survivors and their families. One of its most recent projects, The Corden, is in the Bronx. The Corden opened in 2021 and received a National Association of Home Builders Best in American Living regional award and an Affordable Housing Finance Readers' Choice Award, among other accolades. The project is named in honor of Carol Corden, who led New Destiny for 24 years before retiring in 2020.

Meeting Urgent Needs through Creative Design

According to the Family Homelessness Coalition, 70 percent of homeless shelter users in New York City are families with children, representing approximately 13,000 families and 22,000 children. The Corden is providing 62 units of affordable housing (including one manager unit), with 37 of those reserved for families exiting New York City's domestic violence shelters. The large number of family-sized units reserved for domestic violence survivors and their families furthers New Destiny Housing's mission (table 1). At The Corden, supportive services work in conjunction with community and design. For example, biophilic design principles ensure abundant natural light and an enjoyable, usable, landscaped space, creating a comfortable and nurturing environment for residents. For children, this means creating a "playable ground" space. In contrast to a traditional play structure, playable ground promotes freeform and imaginative play, thanks to the space's purposefully engaging topography. The courtyard that houses this space is screened to provide privacy and security, but the designers' use of warm-toned wood makes this security feature feel intimate rather than heavy handed.

Table 1. Unit breakdown for The Corden

Unit Size Total units Domestic violence – designated units
Studio 13 0
One-bedroom 8 2
Two-bedroom 33 28
Three-bedroom 7 7
Total 61 37

According to Nicole Branca, executive director of New Destiny Housing, these and other design elements are important in facilitating families' recovery and well-being. The Corden's community space and backyard help foster the informal healing that comes from community, providing space for people to gather, meet, and talk as well as space for children to play. In a sense, Branca says, the ineffable power of bringing people together in this way is at least as important as the regular work of case management and service provision. Other resident amenities include a multipurpose room, a children's room, a computer area, a shared laundry room, a library, and a green roof. To help integrate The Corden into the local urban context, project designers varied exterior coloring and materials and used building setbacks and massing. Development costs for The Corden totaled nearly $35 million (table 2).

Table 2. Financing sources for The Corden

Low-income housing tax credit equity $13.8 million
New York State Homes and Community Renewal — Supportive Housing Opportunity Program 1.3 million
New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance — Homeless Housing and Assistance Program 5.8 million
Supportive Housing Loan Program 8 million
Permanent loan 4.7 million
Deferred developer Fee 1 million
Total $34.6 million

Onsite Services

Residents are referred to The Corden through the nonprofit-run network of shelters that New York City created specifically for domestic violence survivors. The city's coordinated entry system does not currently have a pathway designated for domestic violence survivors, but Branca reports that, with the aid of a HUD grant, such a system is currently in development. When survivors are referred to The Corden, New Destiny conducts a safety assessment, which is not a typical intake procedure for permanent supportive housing. Branca explains, however, that abusers may still pose an unacceptable risk to new and existing residents.

New Destiny's Family Support program provides services to residents, including safety planning, job readiness assistance, financial planning, and programming for children and families. Services are available to all residents, including those not living in the domestic violence units. In fact, Branca says, service usage by residents who are not domestic violence survivors is only slightly lower than that of survivors, underlying the struggle, precarity, and associated stress that low-income families in New York City experience. The Empire State Supportive Housing Initiative subsidizes supportive services and rent for residents of The Corden.

Challenges Facing Survivors

Domestic violence survivors often require care to deal with the emotional and psychological toll of abuse, including posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety. Residents of The Corden, like residents of permanent supportive housing in general, choose the type and level of services they desire themselves; participation is not mandatory. Branca also reports that domestic violence survivors experience high levels of physical medical conditions that are byproducts of the psychological harm their abusers have inflicted on them. To address this need, Branca says that New Destiny Housing leverages its size (they currently operate 10 properties as permanent housing) to employ full-time health and wellness specialists — positions that a single property would be too small to support. These employees help ensure the holistic well-being of residents at The Corden and other New Destiny buildings.

Children of domestic violence survivors also need to recover from living in abusive environments. As it does with the adult residents, New Destiny strives to care for children's well-being at the broadest level. Traditional therapy is combined with activities such as yoga, running groups, art therapy, piano lessons, and outdoor play. Children requiring more intensive clinical care are referred to outside partners. Branca shares how New Destiny takes care to observe children's development once they move into The Corden and their other properties, as their trauma can sometimes take several months to manifest in outward behavior. In a way, Branca says, safe and stable housing is a precondition for the emergence and then treatment of the trauma that stems from a home life characterized by abuse.

In New York City, a new resource is helping domestic violence survivors transition from permanent supportive housing once they have achieved stability and recovery and no longer require services but still need housing support. The Moving On Initiative sets aside housing choice vouchers designated for people leaving supportive housing, helping to free up resources for others with greater need.

Evaluating Program Success and Ongoing Challenges

The New York Community Trust funded an evaluation of New Destiny's care model and published the results in 2021. The evaluation helped New Destiny refine the "inputs, interventions, outputs, outcomes, and indicators" of the model. Although the most important indicators have traditionally involved monitoring housing stability and the extent to which residents remain safe from violence, New Destiny has recently created metrics beyond the basics of safety and shelter to include health, wellness, education, and financial security, reports Branca.

The evaluation found that New Destiny's model gave residents the skills they needed to maintain housing by providing them with the "time, energy, and mental space to further other goals," be they educational, occupational, or familial, underscoring the foundational importance of safe and stable housing.

The evaluation found that, in addition to the data-driven aspects of New Destiny's approach, embracing the role of "practice wisdom" helps ensure that each resident's needs are met in an appropriate way. Practice wisdom, explains Branca, is the intuitive understanding of every person's unique journey through healing, which is not linear. It is about knowing when and how to adjust a care plan if, for example, an abuser tries to make contact or the abuser's mother is again providing child care. By applying New Destiny's care model in a secure and welcoming facility, The Corden is expanding the Bronx community's ability to nurture and support survivors and their families through their personal journeys of recovery from domestic violence.



The contents of this article are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the U.S. Government.