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A New York City Housing Authority policy designed to prevent convicted criminals from moving into apartments is putting battered women at risk, according to Legal Aid lawyers.

In preliminary motions on a new class action lawsuit, up to 3,500 women who applied for public housing apartments charge that NYCHA’s excessively stringent screening process is forcing them to reveal their whereabouts to the abusive men in their lives. The policy is intended to force prospective tenants to prove they no longer live with ex-boyfriends and husbands who have criminal records.

The suit, filed by the Legal Aid Society, says the women may have been illegally denied apartments as a result of NYCHA’s beefed-up screening process.

“The idea that a woman should have to get in touch with her abuser just to satisfy a bureaucrat’s idea of proof is absolutely absurd,” said Dorchen Liebholdt, director of Sanctuary for Families Center for Battered Women’s Legal Services, a co- plaintiff on the suit.

A NYCHA spokesperson refused to comment on the ongoing litigation.

Until last April, women were required to provide three pieces of identification from their former husbands or boyfriends to prove they lived seperately. While that policy has been revised, Legal Aid charges that the new, more vaguely worded requirements are just as bad. Although the agency allowed some of the women to move into apartments, attorney Judith Goldiner of Legal Aid says the old policy is being quietly enforced. Many women who were previously rejected are now having their cases put in a bureaucratic limbo while the authority figures out what to do next. “You have women who are trying to hide from these abusive guys and NYCHA was making them track them down and make contact,” said Goldiner.

In one case described in court documents, the authority is mulling the fate of a Lower East Side woman initially refused an apartment because her drug-dealer ex-boyfriend lived with her in NYCHA housing during the early 1990s. The man lives in Brooklyn today, and is so abusive that she has obtained on an order of protection against him. While waiting for the city’s decision, the woman has been forced to double-up with her mother–who, she says, has begun beating her and her child.

The lawsuit is not expected to be resolved until later this year, according to Goldiner.

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