‘It felt like I was being victimized all over again’: Local woman inspires bill to help domestic abuse victims find housing

Roanoke woman says she doesn’t want others to face the challenges she did

ROANOKE, Va. – There is a new effort to help domestic violence victims in Virginia.

Under a new bill, landlords would not be able to deny housing to domestic abuse victims because of their credit. Applicants would be required to have proof of abuse, like a police report, in order to qualify.

Del. Sam Rasoul, a Democrat representing Roanoke in Virginia’s General Assembly, filed the bill last week. It could be discussed as early as next month. The next legislative session starts on January 8.

Del. Rasoul told 10 news a local woman, Kiesha Preston, inspired it. She wants to make sure other victims of domestic abuse do not face all the same challenges she did.

“It empowers people who are still in abusive relationships to leave because a large reason why people don’t leave is because of financial reasons or fear that they won’t have a place to go,” said Preston.

She now has a place in Roanoke for her and her children to call home, but a few years ago, landlords were turning her down because she had bad credit, something she claims was her partner’s doing.

“A lot of utilities in the home were shut off. Joint bank accounts ended up being completely drained, and I had three kids to take care of,” she said.

Preston said she was making enough money to pay rent, but because of her credit, she received denial after denial when applying.

“It was incredibly frustrating. It felt like I was being victimized all over again.”

Preston started pushing for a new bill, to help others, making sure victims can start a new life away from their former partners or family members.

“Look, this is what happened to me. How do we make sure it doesn’t happen to anybody else?” Preston said. “People are actually listening to you and wanting to hear your ideas. It’s very empowering.”

She went to an event Del. Rasoul hosted where he asked voters to share ideas for bills.

“You’ve got an idea. We can help you with the drafting process, figure out how to advocate for an important issue, and here she’s going to be a strong voice hopefully in Virginia for victims of domestic violence,” Del. Rasoul said.

He believes Preston's bill could have bipartisan support.

“She definitely deserves to have safe, affordable housing,” he said. “And there are so many others who need to be protected.”

The bill will add domestic abuse victims to the list of factors in the current law on the basis of which landlords cannot discriminate. The current list includes whether an applicant has children, whether they’re handicapped and their gender, race, and religion.

Actions that will be considered domestic abuse will be any that fall under the current definition of “family abuse” in Virginia.

Preston grew up in Roanoke and graduated from Patrick Henry High School. She said she has been working on her credit score and hopes to own her own house in the future.