Some cities are taking up ordinances that would prohibit landlords from denying people housing on the basis of a criminal conviction.
Illinois’ Cook County Board of Commissioners’ recent approved an ordinance to help people with criminal convictions more easily get housing in the Chicago area, and that win is adding momentum to activists’ efforts.
Advocates in almost a dozen U.S. cities are currently campaigning for “fair-chance housing ordinances” that would prevent landlords from denying applicants with prior convictions, according to a Curbed.com report.
Beyond new laws, advocates also want to change the public’s perception of people who have once been incarcerated since more than 600,000 people are released from confinement each year – and individuals recently released or paroled from prison are more likely to be homeless.
Activists claim that criminal records prevent ex-cons from getting approved for an apartment or housing, and 80% of formerly incarcerated people said they had difficulty accessing housing after release, according to a report from the Ella Baker Center. The study found that it didn’t matter what they were convicted for or how long ago it happened. In addition, formerly incarcerated people said that moving in with family had the potential to cause problems, since their family could also be forced to move.
In 2016, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) weighed in on the issue by declaring in a policy memo that it was illegal for property owners to deny housing on the basis of a criminal conviction. The HUD memo said the 1968 Fair Housing Act prohibits landlords from discriminating in a way that results in a “disparate impact,” which HUD says applies to criminal records just it does for other protected classes.
HUD’s guidance is not law, but it could influence federal court decisions. It has been cited in helping ordinances get approved in cities like San Francisco; Detroit; Newark, N.J.; and Kansas City, Mo.
“It’s definitely gaining traction,” says Marie Claire Tran-Leung, a lawyer at the Shriver Center on Poverty Law. “You’re seeing efforts underway in a lot of different jurisdictions. The [HUD] guidance helped, too, because it really helped make the point that people who are coming back home are subject to a lot of stigma and need strong protections against discrimination.”
Source: “The Fight for Fair Chance Housing Ordinances,” Curbed.com (June 12, 2019)
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