HELPING MOMS, DADS & KIDS TO COME HOME

:
ELIMINATING BARRIERS TO HOUSING FOR
PEOPLE WITH CRIMINAL RECORDS

DECEMBER 2016

ABOUT THE LEGAL ACTION CENTER
Legal Action Center is the only non-profit law and policy organization in the United
States whose sole mission is to fight discrimination against people with histories of
addiction, HIV/AIDS, or criminal records, and to advocate for sound public policies
in these areas. The Center’s National Helping Individuals with criminal records Reenter through Employment (H.I.R.E.) Network was established in 2001 to increase the
number and quality of employment opportunities available to qualified individuals
with criminal records by improving employment practices and public policies, and
changing public opinion.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
This research was funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. We thank them for their
support but acknowledge that the findings and conclusions presented in the report
are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Foundation.

Legal Action Center
225 Varick Street, Suite 402
New York, NY 10014
212-243-1313
www.lac.org
www.hirenetwork.org

©2016 Legal Action Center
All Rights Reserved

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

1

Introduction

3

The Key Problem: Blanket Bans on Housing People with

6

Legal and Regulatory Obstacles to Public Housing

12
13
15
16

Criminal Records

Obstacles to Private Housing
Opening Doors to Housing
Federal Policy Recommendations
Innovative State and Local Initiatives

24

Conclusion

25

Endnotes

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INTRODUCTION
When justice-involved people can’t find stable housing, they have a
much harder time finding and keeping jobs, maintaining their health
and pursuing educational opportunities -–the very things that make
recidivism less likely, communities safer, and families healthier.

Homelessness among families with children
and other Americans is one of the most
pressing challenges facing communities
across the country. According to one survey
of major American cities, an average of
25 percent of the demand for emergency
shelter was not met in 2015. Because no
beds were available, emergency shelters
in 76 percent of the cities had to turn away
homeless families with children.1
One under-reported cause of homelessness
is that people with criminal records and their
families face a broad range of laws, policies
and practices that impede their ability to find
and retain safe, affordable housing. Clearly,
these housing restrictions are a national
problem that must be addressed, at a time
when more than 70 million Americans—one
in three adults—have an arrest or conviction
record,2 at least 11 million people are
cycling through our nation’s jails,3 and more
than 600,000 people are returning home
from prison each year.4 This report assesses
some of the most common and pernicious
obstacles to housing that confront Americans
with criminal records and their families. It
also examines innovative federal, state and
municipal initiatives that are helping people
to overcome those obstacles.

LINKAGE BETWEEN HOMELESSNESS, MASS
INCARCERATION & RECIDIVISM
When individuals with criminal records are unable to find safe and
permanent housing, it often has a devastating impact on their children
and other family members.

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America’s “revolving-door” approach to
mass incarceration is inextricably linked to
the problem of homelessness. As noted by
the National Health Care for the Homeless
Council: “Homelessness contributes to
the risk of incarceration. And incarceration
contributes to a high risk of homelessness.”5
Without homes, people also have an
increased risk of drug use, crime, violence,
and victimization,6 which, in turn, increase
the risk of recidivism. It is not surprising
that one study of first-time users of shelters
in New York City found that criminal histories
were one of the strongest predictors of
“long-term homelessness.”7
About 2.7 million children under the age
of 18 reportedly have a parent in prison
or jail.8 Many more have parents and/or
siblings living with criminal records, who
also face obstacles in finding and keeping
homes. In general, homelessness harms and
destabilizes children and their families in
myriad ways. Its consequences --“financial
and housing instability, stress, emotional
difficulties, broken family relationships and
communities ill-equipped to bolster children
amid great uncertainty — are a minefield
nearly impossible for kids to traverse without
incident.”9 In families with justice-involved
individuals, these problems—which are
often exacerbated by poverty, educational
deficits and other challenges—make it
more likely that children will eventually be
involved with the criminal justice system,
perpetuating the grim cycles of poverty and
recidivism.10

These hurdles also unfairly confront those
who’ve been arrested and never convicted of
a crime. Many current barriers are the lingering
result of a “tough-on-crime” approach to
criminal justice that was once endorsed by the
federal government and is still implemented
by many states and municipalities.
During the 1990s what came to be known as
“One Strike and You’re Out” policies were
encouraged and enforced in public housing.
Fortunately, in recent years, an approach
that the punished people well after they paid
their debt to society has slowly given way to
more logical and effective policies. The latter,
described later in this report, are based on a
philosophy that balances a commitment to
public safety with an effort to eliminate reentry barriers that keep the American dream
out of reach for millions of families.

On the other hand, access to housing for
people with criminal records contributes
to successful re-entry and improved public
safety. In fact, research indicates that both
supportive housing and peer-led recovery
residences are associated with reductions
in recidivism. Those reductions, in turn, are
crucially important to the stability and wellbeing of the children, partners and other
close relatives of justice-involved people.
Yet, criminal record restrictions for public
and private housing have been an accepted
and enforced practice across the country for
decades, leaving many young people and
parents who have been caught in the web of
the criminal justice system either homeless
or living apart from each other.

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A KEY PROBLEM: BROAD DISCRETION TO DENY
HOUSING TO PEOPLE WITH CRIMINAL RECORDS
One important reason why people with
criminal records are denied housing is that
Public Housing Authorities (PHAs), owners
of federally-assisted housing and private
landlords have broad discretion to set their
own screening criteria. They often have
flat bans against housing individuals with
criminal histories as well as their families. Too
often, these bans are imposed without any
consideration of evidence of rehabilitation,
and without any assessment of the ability of
applicants to be good rent payers or good
neighbors who pose no risk to the safety of
their communities.
Housing barriers are not only counterproductive social policies; they also
constitute
excessive
and
unfair
punishments for people who have
already received and completed a
criminal sentence 11 and want to rebuild
their lives as well as their families.
The
proliferation
of
computerized
background records has compounded
this problem. Reports derived from public
and private databases of criminal records
are part of the tenant screening process
of most Public Housing Authorities (PHAs)
and private landlords. But few housing
decision makers are trained how to review
criminal record information. And even fewer
obtain relevant information that may signal
rehabilitation and the potential of applicants
to be good tenants.
In addition, criminal background reports
often contain misleading or inaccurate
information, and improperly include
information that has been expunged or
sealed and therefore should not available
for review by housing decision makers,
according to a study by the National
Employment Law Project.12
Also, many private housing providers
use standardized rental applications that
ask prospective tenants if they or any
member of their household has a criminal
record. Many also have a ninety-nine year
“lookback” policy and no appeal process for
reconsideration of tenancy. Some entities go
as far as immediately discouraging anyone
with a criminal history from applying for
housing.
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LaShanna Tyson
can remember being released from prison in 2011,
Ireally
with dreams of going back to college, working
hard at my job, and going home to my own

place at the end of the day. It didn’t take me long
to find out that these dreams would become almost
impossible to accomplish. I couldn’t get back into
college because of a ridiculous residency policy,
so I decided to work two jobs since I had worked
like a man for almost free in prison. No one would
even give me an interview though, so no job. I never
gave up though because there was never any going
back to that hellhole called Lowell Correctional
Institution, and I decided to apply for a real estate
license because I knew a Broker who would hire
me if I could get one. I had a hearing in front of
the F.R.E.C. [Florida Real Estate Commission] and
fully disclosed my offense to the world for the first
time ever, and they gave me my second chance.
I sold my very first house exactly 2 months after
receiving my Florida Real Estate license! I was so
excited because now I knew that I had truly made
it over the re-entry barriers, and I was going to go
out and get my very own apartment now because
I could afford it.

greatly disappointed when complex after
Ithewas
complex denied me residency because I checked
box “yes”, that I had been convicted of a

felony 14 years prior. After countless denials to
rent, I asked the last complex how long did I have
to wait before I could rent and to my shock and
disbelief, they told me 99 years!!!! I asked them if
they realized that I sell homes to people for a living,
but they did not care and stated that it was a policy
that they had to follow. It was at that very moment
that I realized that was why I kept seeing all of
the women continuously come back to prison and
telling me that it was easier in prison than it was
out in the “free” world. When someone tells you
that, you know there’s a problem out there that’s
much worse than what policymakers consider,
no redemption given to those who seek housing.
I am sharing this story so that people see that
everyone convicted of a felony is not a bad person
and that there are barriers in place, which create
recidivism. Everyone makes mistakes and we have
an obligation as a society to give them a second
chance to do it right this time.

For example, a Georgia based apartment
complex—managed by a company that
is a member of the Georgia Apartment
Association (GAA) and Atlanta Apartment
Association—clearly
tells
prospective
tenants that people with felony convictions,
no matter what the offense is or how old it
is, should not be considered for tenancy.
The complex also imposes a multi-year
automatic bar to consideration for anyone
charged and not convicted of a felony or
misdemeanor. The standard GAA application
for occupancy asks prospective tenants:

“Have You or Any Person Who Will Be Occupying the Apt. Ever Been Convicted,
Charged, Arrested, Indicted, Plead Guilty or No Contest, or Received Deferred
Adjudication or Probation to (A) Any Felony? Or (B) Any Misdemeanor Involving
a Sexual Offense, Stalking Illegal Use or Possession of Weapons, Assault, Batter,
Theft, Fraud, Bad Checks, Criminal Damage to Property, Trespass, Vandalism,
Illegal Possession or Sale of Drugs?”

In standard public and private housing
practices, even the record of an arrest that did
not end with a “conviction disposition”—a
finding of guilt— is routinely and unfairly
used as evidence of criminal activity. As
noted in a report released in 2015 by the
Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty
Law, a single arrest during the past seven
years can jeopardize a family’s application
to the Fayetteville Metropolitan Housing
Authority in North Carolina. And PHAs
define criminal activity as being arrested
within the past five years in various localities
in California, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine,
North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and South
Carolina.13

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LEGAL & REGULATORY OBSTACLES TO PUBLIC HOUSING
FEDERAL RESTRICTIONS
Specific federal laws and regulations create
other onerous and long-term barriers to
housing for people with criminal records and
their families:
• People with convictions for producing
methamphetamine in public housing or
federally-assisted housing are permanently
excluded from living there. The same is
true for people whose conviction creates
a lifetime requirement that they register as
sex-offenders.14
• After a household has been evicted from
public housing because of drug-related
criminal activity, the household members are
generally ineligible for such housing for three
years. The housing provider does have the
discretion to shorten the three-year period if
the person who was convicted successfully
completes a treatment program, or if the
“circumstances leading to the eviction no
longer exist.”15

A household with a member who is
“currently using illegal drugs or misusing
alcohol or drugs in a manner that may
interfere with the health, safety, or right to
peaceful enjoyment of the premises by other
residents” is generally ineligible for public
or federally-assisted housing. However, the
PHA or housing owner can admit the person
or family if they demonstrate that they are
not currently using illegal drugs or misusing
alcohol, and that they have completed drug
treatment.16
• PHAs and federally-assisted housing owners are permitted to admit people who have
not engaged in criminal activity for a “reasonable” period of time. However, there is
no current guidance in the law about how
much time is considered “reasonable.” As
a result, these housing decision makers often have very long “lookback” periods that
have the effect of excluding hundreds, if not
thousands of applicants in need. For example, in a Section 8 housing project in Alexandria, Virginia, applicants can be rejected on
the basis of seven-year-old convictions for
shoplifting, public intoxication, bouncing a
check and a wide variety of other crimes.17

Federal Barriers to Housing
Justice-Involved People
During the “war on drugs” era of the late
80s to late 90s several laws and regulations
were passed to restrict housing eligibility for
people involved in drug activity:

•The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 required
PHAs to construct lease clauses allowing for
the eviction of tenants who engaged in drug
use or other behaviors that could threaten the
safety of other tenants.
•The
Cranston-Gonzalez
National
Affordable Housing Act of 1990 (NAHA)
imposed a mandatory 3-year ban on the
readmission of tenants evicted for drug-related
criminal activity. PHAs have the option of
extending the ban beyond 3 years.
•The Housing Opportunity Program
Extension Act of 1996 (HOPEA) strengthened
eviction rules and called on the National
Crime Information Center and local police
departments to provide PHAs with applicants’
criminal records. HOPEA allowed for PHAs
to deny applicants who were believed to be
using drugs or abusing alcohol, or who were
found to have a pattern of alcohol or drug use
that might threaten the health or safety of other
tenants.
• The Quality Housing and Work Responsibility
Act of 1998 supported PHAs’ right to exclude
applicants with a criminal history and use their
discretion to determine which applicants were
possible risks to the safety of the community.
•Federal regulations provide PHAs with
baseline restrictions on alcohol abuse, other
drug use, and criminal history. Housing
assistance programs are required to deny
applicants who (1) have been evicted from
public housing within the past 3 years for drugrelated reasons, (2) are on the lifetime sex
offender registry in any state, (3) have been
convicted of manufacturing methamphetamines
on public housing property, (4) are using
illegal drugs.

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LOCAL BARRIERS
Local housing policies and practices create
additional hurdles to public housing for
justice-involved individuals and their
families. What follows is an overview of
homelessness as well as criminal records
restrictions in several American cities of
interest to the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Some promising municipal and state
initiatives that are working to overcome
these barriers are described later in this
report:

for challenging housing denials.22 However,
the screening process is still fairly broad and
any prospective tenant 16 years old or older
has to undergo a criminal record screening.

• ATLANTA: While homelessness afflicts
people of all ages in Atlanta, an unusually
high number of young people in that city
don’t have a place live. The ATLANTA
YOUTH COUNT! Homeless Youth Count and
Needs Assessment, conducted by Georgia
State University in 2015, determined that
there were approximately 3,374 homeless
and runaway youth living on the streets,
in shelters, or in other dangerous housing
situations.18 The vast majority of homeless
youth surveyed were Black or AfricanAmerican (71%), cisgender19 men (60.5%)
between the ages of 20-25 (70.9%).20 In
this survey, 51% of the young people had
witnessed a parent go to jail or prison and
17% of them had been in foster care because
of juvenile criminal behavior. 21

Tenants denied housing due to a criminal
record review are entitled to a written
explanation from the agency’s decision
and can request an informal review that
considers:

Needless to say, these young people either
have no income or very little income. The
challenge in Atlanta, like other cities, is that
low income housing options are very limited
and stringent criminal record restrictions in
private sector housing cause even more
difficulties. Usually, the only option these
young people and many older individuals
have for independent living is to rely on
public housing.
Yet, the Atlanta Housing Authority (AHA) has
a stringent criminal record policy that limits
opportunities for individuals in immediate
need for housing, particularly formerly
incarcerated individuals.

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The AHA has made several modifications
to its admissions and lease renewal policy
in the past twenty years. As a result of a
class action lawsuit settlement from 1995
and follow-up compliance reviews, the
agency has modified its policy. It no longer
has a flat bans against applicants who have
criminal records and includes due process
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AHA’s current screening policy considers
three categories of offenses: (I) offenses
specifically identified by HUD; (II) violent
or drug-related offenses; and (III) criminal
offenses that are not violent or drug
related.23

a)


b)



c)




d)



the circumstances of the
criminal case(s) and mitigating or
aggravating circumstances;
the time, nature and extent of
the applicant’s conduct (including
the severity of the conduct and
the seriousness of the offense);
whether the conduct indicates
that the applicant would pose
a danger to the health, safety
or welfare of others (including
other residents and staff);
whether the applicant has been
rehabilitated so as not to pose
such a danger, and other
facts which would prevent the
applicant from posing a danger.

While this is certainly a fair approach that takes
into account the individual circumstances
of applicants, if housing applications are
denied, applicants usually need legal
assistance to appeal and challenge the
denial. Many find it difficult on their own to
put together a persuasive case that may win
them an appeal. In some neighborhoods,
there are no free or low- cost legal service
organizations to assist them. However, when
these individuals or families have access to
legal support services they do often win
these challenges. Marissa McCall Dodson,
Esq. a legal advocate in Georgia shared
with us that she once represented an elderly
man who, when she met him, was living in
an abandoned house without a roof.

He had a few drug and property charges
from the 1990s (only two convictions)
and had been denied public housing by
the Atlanta Housing Authority. He had
limited mental capacity and could not
recall the facts or results of the old cases.
I represented him in his appeal and
demonstrated that most of the charges
had not resulted in conviction and the
others were so old they were unreliable
indicators of whether my client would
pose a reasonable risk to the housing
community. The appeal was successful
and my client was able to secure housing.
He would come back to my office every
year or so after that to let me know how
well he was doing and to say ‘thank you.’
• BALTIMORE: Baltimore City’s Mayor’s
Office of Human Services estimates that
there are nearly 2,800 men, women, and
children who are homeless on any given
night. About 35% of the state of Maryland’s
homeless population is in Baltimore City.24
Prisoners from Baltimore make up more than
one-third of the state’s prison population.25
Upon release from prison, many try to return
to their families who live in the Housing
Authority of Baltimore City (HABC), the
largest local low-income housing provider.
But HABC had had blanket criminal record
exclusions for years. Although its policy
has been modified because of litigation,
individuals with conviction histories still face
the chance of being denied public housing.
HABC conducts a criminal history check
on everyone in a household age 14 and
older and considers criminal convictions.
A person convicted of a felony is barred
for 3 years from the date of the conviction,
and 18 months for persons convicted of
misdemeanors. 26
HABC denies eligibility for admission based
on:
a)


any history of criminal activity on
the part of any applicant’s family
members, including drug-related
criminal activity;

b)




any history or evidence of
repeated acts of violence on
the part of an individual, or a
pattern of conduct constituting a
danger to peaceful occupancy by
neighbors;

c)
any history of initiating

threats or behaving in a

manner indicating an intent to

assault employees or other
tenants;
d)




any history of alcohol or
substance abuse that
would threaten the
health, welfare, or right to
peaceful enjoyment of the
premises by other residents.

• BUFFALO: An estimated 5,400 individuals
were homeless in Buffalo in 2015, according
to Homeless Alliance of Western New York.27
Buffalo was one of the first cities in New
York State to pass “Ban the Box” legislation
to prevent employment discrimination
against people with criminal records,28 yet
the same philosophy does not apply to
housing rights. According to Katherine
Russell-Sponaugle, an education specialist
at Housing Opportunities Made Equal Inc.,
“Despite increasing public awareness on
the issue, there are no anti-discrimination
protections for people with criminal records
applying for housing. Nor are there any
changes anticipated in the near future.”29
The Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority
(BMHA) performs criminal background checks
through local law enforcement for all adult
household members and minors 16 years
and older.30 Its Admissions and Continued
Occupancy plan encourages individualized
determinations of the circumstances
of tenants and applicants with criminal
records, and calls for consideration of the
time, nature, and extent of the applicant‘s
conduct (including the seriousness of the
offense). Nevertheless, according to local
advocates, it denies virtually any applicant
with a criminal record.31
If a family member is found to be ineligible for
housing based on BMHA’s policy, the family
has the option to remove the individual from
the household roster. The family must then
present evidence of the former household
member‘s current address upon request.
This policy is especially difficult for families
with teenagers 16 years and older who have
had contact with the criminal justice system.
New York is one of two states that process
16 year olds as adults if they are accused of
committing a criminal offense.
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Buffalo has had some success when it
comes to addressing homelessness with
their Housing First program.32
However
the housing vouchers are only available to
people in transitional housing for less than
90 days. The challenge for most formerly
incarcerated individuals is that upon their
release they are mandated to live in a
halfway house and usually for more than
90 days. As a result of this mandate, these
individuals are often not eligible for the
housing voucher program.
• COLUMBUS, OH: In Columbus, the
most common contributing factors to
homelessness in the area are loss of a job,
lack of a livable wage, drug and/or alcohol
abuse, mental illness and domestic violence.
However, race-based discrimination may
also be a contributing factor to the city and
county’s homelessness problems. African
Americans reportedly are 22 percent of
Franklin County’s population but 73% of
families served in homeless shelters in
Franklin County are African American.33
More and more homeless men and women
are working full time jobs but do not
generate enough income to afford a home,
as there is a wide gap in affordable housing
choices and entry-level income.
Community and faith-based organizations
are the primary low income housing providers
in the City of Columbus and Franklin County.
But the Columbus Metropolitan Housing
Authority (CMHA) does provide public
housing and subsidies to private landlords.
Compared to public housing authorities
in other cities, the CMHA has a relatively
moderate screening policy. It only asks
prospective tenants if they have ever been
convicted of a felony or if they or anyone
18 years or older in their household has
been convicted of illegal distribution or
manufacture of an illegal drug or other
controlled substance.34
• NEW YORK CITY: According to the
Coalition for the Homeless “in September
2016, there were 61,931 homeless people,
including 15,691 homeless families with
24,148 homeless children, sleeping each
night in the New York City municipal shelter
system.”35 African-American and Latino
New Yorkers are disproportionately affected
by homelessness,36 and one reason is that
they are more likely to have involvement

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with the criminal justice system. Overpolicing in communities of color
has left tens of thousands of African
American and Latino boys and men in
New York City with some type of prior
justice involvement that will appear on
a criminal history report.37
New York City receives nearly half
of the state’s parole releases with
approximately
16,842
parolees
returning to the city out of the state’s
34,376 parolees.38 The New York
Times has reported that, according
to New York City Housing Authority
(NYCHA) officials, an estimated
1,500 parolees could be living in the
city’s public housing projects without
authorization.39
NYCHA is the largest public housing
authority in the country.40 Compared
to other cities, it has a relatively
enlightened approach to tenants and
applicants with criminal records. For
example, in January 2016, NYCHA
revised its admissions policy so that the
waiting period for housing applications
was no longer extended for multiple
convictions.41
In addition, NYCHA no longer takes
into account low-level, non-criminal
convictions. It also enables people
who are released from incarceration
to apply as soon as they return to the
community, rather than at the end of
their parole or probation.42 The City’s
promising new Family Reentry Project
for formerly incarcerated individuals is
described below.
Nevertheless, New York City has an
admissions program for public housing
that screens for several classes of both
felonies and misdemeanors. NYCHA
does have an appeal process where
applicants found ineligible have an
opportunity to request an informal
review of their application. However,
their perspective tenants will likely need
assistance with creating a persuasive
case that provides sufficient evidence
of rehabilitation.

Being threatened with eviction from your home at a young age is
unimaginable, but that is exactly what happened to Shawn and Tiffany
Davis who had lived in the same New York City Housing Authority
(NYCHA) apartment for more than 22 years, since they were two
and three years of age respectively. Theirs was a close family until
their mother, the original leaseholder, passed away when Shawn and
Tiffany were just teenagers. Their aunt who took them in tragically died
not long after their mother. Devastated by both losses Shawn dropped
out of high school, had some minor brushes with the law, and became
a father of a little girl, Da’nai. At just 18 years of age Tiffany made the
courageous decision to take over her mother’s lease and help care for
her brother and his young daughter. Although Tiffany was plagued with
serious health issues, including chronic asthma, diabetes and severe
depression she found a way to provide for her and Shawn and Da’nai.
One day the police came to the door with a search warrant and after a
terrifying two hours of having their apartment ransacked, the police only
found a marijuana cigarette and a Xanax pill in Shawn’s room. A month
later, Tiffany received an eviction notice from NYCHA, threatening to
terminate her tenancy or the alternative, permanently exclude Shawn
from the apartment. She contacted Youth Represent (YR), a youth
defense and advocacy organization in NYC. Laurie Parise, Esq., the
Executive Director of YR, immediately began to advocate for the family
but NYCHA refused her requests to stop the eviction process if the family
agreed to be on probation for a year.
The eviction process came with huge costs for this family and the city.
Tiffany’s health issues were exacerbated by the stress and fear of
becoming homeless. The case dragged on for two years and it put a strain
on Tiffany’s relationship with Shawn. The cost to the city was enormous—
two hearings where a police officer was summoned to testify; the cost of
ambulances that had to transport Tiffany from two scheduled hearings
where she went into distress and had to be hospitalized; the hours of time
put in by NYCHA attorneys; and the cost of the administrative hearing
officer. In the end, the family was put on probation for one year—just as
Laurie had requested two years before.
Tiffany, Shawn and Da’nai survived the trauma of that experience and
still live in their apartment home without the fear of eviction. Thankfully,
they had an attorney who zealously advocated for their rights to live in
a stable living environment, which they so richly deserve.

Laurie Parise, Esq.,
Executive Director of Youth Represent

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NYCHA is currently reviewing its criminal record
policies for prospective and current tenants.
In the past, families had been subjected to
immediate eviction proceedings when anyone
in the household got arrested for any offense,
whether or not it happened on NYCHA property.
The entire family was subject to eviction or at the
very least put on long-term probation

a)






Is there a history of criminal
activity involving physical
violence to persons or
property or other criminal
acts which might have an
adverse effect on the health,
safety and welfare of current
residents?

However, NYCHA has since created a permanent
exclusion policy that singles out the household
member accused of being involved in criminal
activity. While on the face of it, this policy
appears to be much fairer to families, NYCHA has
been known to ban family members, including
minors, from ever stepping foot on its properties
for minor offenses. This policy was particularly
devastating to black and brown families with
teenagers, who on any given day could be
caught up in the criminal justice web because
of the Stop and Frisk policies formally enforced
in NYCHA developments.43 Furthermore, New
York is one of two states that prosecute youth
aged 16 to 18 years old in the adult criminal
system making their records available to the
public at the point of arrest.

b)






Is there a history of
any drug-related or violent
criminal activity which would
adversely affect the health,
safety, well-being or right
of peaceful enjoyment of the
premises by current residents
or SAHA employees?

c)



Is there a history of alcohol
abuse that may interfere with
the health, safety, or right
to peaceful enjoyment of the
premises by others?

•Alcohol abuse shall
only be evaluated as
an aggravating factor
in the context of a criminal
conviction or in the context of
a prior housing eviction.

d)



Are any family members
registered as a lifetime sex
offender? Such individuals are
ineligible for assisted housing
for life.45

According to Sebastian Solomon, Legal Action
Center’s New York State Director of Policy,
“NYCHA is in the process of a very thorough
review of its exclusion policy. NYCHA now
receives automated notices from the New York
Police Department, which makes the process less
haphazard and arbitrary based on the community
a tenant lives in. But the automated disclosure
of tenant arrests has increased the number of
hearings and exclusions. More recently, NYCHA
has said it intends to focus only on violent crimes
instead of other offenses that ostensibly affect
the safety and welfare of other tenants.”
• SAN ANTONIO: According to a “Point in
Time” count taken in January 21, 2016, there
were 2781 homeless people in Bexar County
Texas, which includes San Antonio. That was
a 4 percent decrease from the previous year.
One oft-cited reason for this progress is that
the City has made efforts to house veterans and
launched other proactive housing programs.44
Another reason may well be that the San
Antonia Housing Authority’s admissions policy is
relatively moderate and mainly includes tenancy
restrictions that are required under federal law.
First, the agency only conducts criminal record
screens on household members who are 18
years or older. The agency notes in its admission
policy that it will assess the following criteria
when conducting a criminal record screening:

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Prospective tenants also have the
opportunity to apply for an informal
hearing to dispute
information
considered in the denial and present
evidence of suitability for public
housing.

OBSTACLES TO PRIVATE HOUSING
There are very few protections for people
with criminal records who are confronted with
discrimination in the private housing market.
Moreover, state laws and local ordinances
create mandatory housing restrictions for
justice-involved individuals and their families.
There are numerous examples, including:
•CRIME FREE MULTI-HOUSING:
Many municipalities have crime-free rental
housing ordinances or voluntary programs
that actively encourage private landlords
to deny housing to justice-involved
individuals and their households. This
approach originated in Mesa, Arizona in
the early 1990s. Now, nearly 2,000 cities
are members of the International Crime
Free Multi-Housing Program, most of them
in the U.S.

In Illinois alone, according to Sargent
Shriver National Poverty Law Center,
more than 100 cities and towns have
such ordinances. They “typically require
landlords to participate in a crime-free
housing training program offered by
the municipal government, either as a
condition of receiving the landlord license
or as a free-standing obligation. Some
ordinances require landlords to perform
criminal background checks on prospective
tenants. Typically, these ordinances don’t
identify the criteria that landlords should
use in screening the criminal backgrounds
of applicants.”46
•UTAH’S
“GOOD
LANDLORD”
PROGRAM offers discounts on business
licensing fees for landlords that set broad
and extensive criminal record restrictions for
prospective tenants. This policy has been
in direct conflict with the state’s declaration
that it is committed to reducing recidivism
and supporting re-entry. Although there
are sixteen cities in the state that are
participating in the program, the City of
Ogden that adopted the program in 2004
announced in September 2016:

Effective October 1, 2016, Ogden City
and Adult Probation and Parole are
participating in a pilot waiver program
to allow a landlord whose property is
licensed under Ogden’s good landlord
incentive program to rent to an
individual who would otherwise not
qualify to reside in such property due
to the individual presently being on
probation or parole or due to his or her
criminal background.
An individual presently on probation or
parole who desires to reside in a good
landlord property must obtain a waiver
from Ogden City business licensing. A
landlord desiring to rent to a waiver
tenant must contact business licensing
to confirm the validity of the waiver
prior to entering into a lease agreement
with that individual.47
•WISCONSIN OVER-RIDE:
Even when municipalities tried to enact
sensible laws to foster housing access
for justice-involved individuals and their
families, states can over-ride or pre-empt
those laws, as was the case in Wisconsin. An
ordinance in Madison, Wisconsin generally
made it illegal to refuse to rent or sell a
dwelling to someone because of his or her
criminal record, unless the circumstances
of the offense had a substantial
relationship to tenancy. However, in 2011,
the state of Wisconsin enacted a law that
nullified this ordinance, prohibiting cities
and counties from restricting a housing
provider’s ability to get and consider
criminal record information.48 Madison’s
experience has been closely observed by
other state governments, and the action
set a precedent that could threaten other
progressive localities that do not align with
their states’ views of second chances.

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15

OPENING DOORS TO HOUSING
FEDERAL HOUSING REFORMS
HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity is also in a position to
vigorously enforce HUD’s guidance on the applicability of the Fair Housing
Act’s anti-discrimination provisions to housing decisions.

In 2011, the Obama Administration
established the Federal Interagency
Reentry Council, whose membership
includes over twenty federal agencies,
to coordinate and advance effective
reentry policies and remove barriers. The
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban
Development (HUD) was one of the
first federal agencies promoting second
chances and working to reduce barriers
to re-entry for justice-involved individuals
and families.
Since 2011, the Secretary of HUD has
issued several guidance letters on criminal
records to PHAs and owners of federallyassisted rental properties. The letters have
actively encouraged them to use their
discretion to give housing to otherwise
qualified people with criminal records and
their families and to avoid evicting them
if they do not pose an unreasonable risk
to the community.49 Several local housing
authorities have answered the call.
While in the past HUD regulations gave
PHAs incentives to screen out and deny
admission to certain applicants with
unfavorable criminal histories, this new
approach has begun to open up housing
access to this population.
Many of the innovative policies and
practices by individual PHAs described
in this report came about, at least in part,
because of new expectations articulated
by HUD in these guidance letters. That
was true in, for example, in Chicago, Cook
County, New York City, New Orleans and
Los Angeles County. In a press release on
HUD’s guidance, the Chicago Coalition for
the Homeless notes: “The 2011 letter was
an important piece of support that CCH’s
Reentry Committee used in its advocacy to
persuade our local housing authorities to
implement their reentry housing pilots.”50

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In April 2016, HUD’s Office of General
Counsel also clarified the extent to which
the Fair Housing Act’s anti-discrimination
provisions apply to people with
criminal records. It used the same racial
disparate impact data that the U.S. Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission
has used for decades to show that blanket
bans against hiring people with criminal
records in employment could violate Title
VII of the Civil Rights Act, because of racial
disparities that unfavorably weigh against
communities of color.
According to the new guidance,
consideration of arrests that did not lead
to a conviction, and blanket refusals to
house people with any type of conviction,
can never justify denial of housing that
results in discrimination on the basis of
race or color; religion; sex; national origin;
familial status, or disability. 51
A 2014 investigation conducted by the
Seattle Office of Civil Rights provides an
example of the kinds of practices the HUD
guidance is designed to thwart. It found
that African American and Latino renters
were told about criminal history and
credit checks more frequently than white
applicants.52 This is likely happening in
other communities as well.
Significantly, the new HUD guidance
on the Fair Housing Act applies to both
public and private housing. This, along
with previous HUD guidances, establishes
a strong legal basis for challenging
housing policies that discriminate against
people with criminal histories. In one
recent case, the Fortune Society Inc. v.
Sandcastle Towers Housing Development
Fund Corp. et al, Fortune Society argued
that the Sandcastle complex had a policy
of refusing to rent to individuals with prior
convictions for felonies or misdemeanors

other than traffic offenses, and that policy
had an unjustified disparate impact against
prospective African-American and Hispanic
tenants, in violation of the FHA.53
In addition, HUD and community and legal
service providers now have the chance
to educate housing providers and the
homeless on the rights of people with
criminal records and the public benefit of
providing second chances.

For people with criminal justice system involvement, discrimination occurs in many ways
and in all housing types- affordable, supportive, private, market, housing authority. The
supply of truly affordable housing is extremely scarce, so there is enormous demand.
Landlords, therefore, have the luxury of being selective when choosing tenants.
Oftentimes, landlords use a screen-out based on conviction history, not on current risk,
as a first method for reducing their number of “eligible” applicants.
People returning to the community and deemed “ineligible” for housing are also looking
to secure employment, build or repair credit, and manage the trauma from incarceration,
making reentry very difficult. Landlords using blanket bans based on conviction history,
rather than individualized assessments, disproportionately preclude people of color
who are statistically incarcerated at higher rates. The Fortune Society hopes our lawsuit
will be one of the many ways we remove barriers for people coming home, allowing
them to be assets to their communities.
JoAnne Page, CEO and President of The Fortune Society

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17

FEDERAL POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS
Although significant attention has been
given to challenges faced by justiceinvolved individuals in housing, there
are still many federal public policies
that could be adapted to further
support family reunification and stability.
Congress and HUD could significantly
reduce homelessness by taking steps to
eliminate barriers to public and federallyassisted housing. For example:
• Limit how far back in time a conviction
matters: Public housing authorities and
landlords should limit the look back for
a person’s criminal record.
•Limit the types of criminal records
that matter: Public housing authorities
and landlords should be barred from
considering non-conviction records
or sealed or expunged records. Only
convictions relevant to the safety
of tenants and property should be
considered.
•Create
housing
opportunities:
Governments should set aside publicly
funded housing for people with
criminal records and their families.
Governments should offer supportive
housing as part of reentry.
•Give people a second chance: No
criminal conviction should result in
a permanent exclusion from any
type of housing. Housing authorities
and landlords should be required to
consider evidence of rehabilitation.

The Legal Action Center has produced
a more detailed set of recommendation,
which can be found in its National
Blueprint for Re-entry 2nd Edition:
Recommendations to promote the
successful reentry of individuals with
criminal records through housing.

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INNOVATIVE STATE AND LOCAL INITIATIVES
To open up public housing, some municipalities and states have taken
pro-active steps to reduce barriers for justice-involved people. Promising
approaches include:

ENCOURAGE FAMILY REUNIFICATION
O CHICAGO: In the Family Reunification
Pilot project, service providers in Chicago
can certify a select group of clients with
criminal histories as qualified for immediate
access to subsidized public housing. It is
a joint program of the Chicago Housing
Authority and the Housing Authority of
Cook County.
O
KING COUNTY, WA: King County
Housing Authority’s Passage Point Prisoner
Re-entry Housing Program (KCHA) was
implemented in 2013 to help formerly
incarcerated parents reunite with their
children. KCHA issues 46 Section 8
vouchers to live in units where they receive
transitional housing and supportive services
through YWCA. The program provides more
than the traditional time-limited transitional
housing services because individuals
who demonstrate their commitment to
rehabilitation and completes the program
can apply for KCHA’s Public Housing
program and obtain priority placement on
the wait list or remain in their unit.
O NEW YORK CITY: New York’s Family
Re-entry Pilot allows people returning from
prison or jail to reunite with families that live
in NYCHA apartments. Participants must
have been released within 18 months of their
application to participate in the pilot and
must agree to receive case management and
reentry services. If accepted, they receive
permission to reside in NYCHA housing with
their family for two years and if they succeed
in the program, their family can request that
they are permanently added to the NYCHA
lease. Participants in the pilot do not have
to meet NYCHA’s general admissions criteria
for criminal record screening.

O
LOS ANGELES: In Los Angeles’
Reentry Family Rehabilitation Pilot,
formerly incarcerated people can
reunite with families that receive Section
8 housing assistance (i.e., Housing
Choice Vouchers). The assisted family
must approve the admission. Justiceinvolved family members are required
to participate in reentry supportive
services provided by community-based
organizations and/or public agencies
that have been selected by the Housing
Authority of the City of Los Angeles.
O MINNEAPOLIS: Minneapolis Public
Housing Authority (MPHA) recently
initiated a project with Beacon Interfaith
Housing Collaborative and Better Futures
Minnesota to provide training, family
unification, employment, and housing
assistance to formerly incarcerated
men. Program participants receive a
Project Based Voucher for housing with
Beacon and Better Futures provides all
of the support services that will allow
participants to become self-sufficient,
be engaged with their children, and live
in safe and affordable housing.
O
NEW HAVEN: Since 2008 the
Housing Authority of New Haven (HANH)
has run the Moving to Work initiative54,
which was established to provide twelve
formerly incarcerated individuals with
preferential placement on the public
housing waitlist.
Additionally, the
program supports certain individuals
returning to their families who live in
public housing. Individuals are required
to complete an action plan, receive case
management services, and must work a
minimum of 14 hours each week, enroll
in a job training program, or enroll in
a treatment program if they are not
disabled.
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O
OAKLAND: The Oakland Housing
Authority (OHA) operates a transitional
housing program called MOMS (Maximizing
Opportunities for Mothers to Succeed) to
connect incarcerated mothers in the Santa
Rita Jail to housing in OHA. To be eligible
for the program, mothers must participate
in counseling, education and employment
programming as well as receive case
management services over a 12 month
period. Upon completing the program they
can apply for permanent housing without
any consideration of their criminal history.
The program has been fairly small but more
recently has been expanded to set aside
more housing units for men leaving jail,
the DADS (Dads Acquiring and Developing
Skills) program.

ENCOURAGE INDIVIDUALIZED DETERMINATIONS
O
NEW YORK STATE: New York State
Governor Cuomo issued guidance in 2016
to forbid discrimination based on a criminal
conviction alone in Section 8 housing (using
Housing Choice Vouchers), state-funded
public housing and other low-income
housing. State-supported providers are
required to make individualized assessments
of applicants. They must consider factors
such as the seriousness of the offense, how
long ago it occurred and how old the person
was when they committed it, as well as
evidence of rehabilitation.55
O NEW YORK CITY: Several policies and
provisions used by NYCHA to encourage
individualized assessments of public housing
applicants and tenants were described in the
“Local Barriers” section of this report.
O NEW ORLEANS: In March 2016, The
Housing Authority of New Orleans changed
its criminal record screening practices to
remove automatic exclusions that went
beyond what federal law required. It also
created a review process for applicants
with records that suggest significant risk to
the community. The policy was developed
primarily to reunify families with formerly
incarcerated members.

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O
SEATTLE: In June 2016, the City
Council and Mayor adopted a resolution
to promote the use of an individualized
tenant assessment as a best practice for
ensuring a landlord used the Fair Housing
Act’s anti-discriminatory standards when
criminal history is used as a tenant
screening criterion.56 The resolution
offers several recommendations to
housing providers that include:
a)


Prohibiting advertisements
for rental housing that make
people with criminal records
ineligible to apply.

b)




Prohibiting screening criteria
that include an absolute
exclusion of anyone with a
criminal record or a broad
category of criminal
record, such as a felony.

c)






Requiring consideration,
prior to denial, of additional,
verifiable information provided
by the applicant regarding
the criminal record and/or
changed circumstances or
good conduct since the time
of conviction.

d)






Prohibiting denials based
on records that cannot be
reported under state law,
such as crimes greater than
seven (7) years since disposition
or release, or juvenile records if
the applicant is twenty-one (21)
years old or older.

e)



Prohibiting denials based
on arrests older than one (1)
year, except when currently
pending charges are under
active prosecution.

f)





Prohibiting denials based on
warrants attached to a
case where a final
disposition has been entered.
Allowing exclusion of people
with active warrants, either
pending or unadjudicated.

g)


Requiring screening criteria
to be based on a business
justification related to the
requirements of tenancy.

h)

Providing for the enforcement of
the above provisions.57

The city also has a Fair Chance Housing
Committee that was appointed by the
mayor to reduce barriers to housing for
people with criminal records. The committee
works to develop proposals that address
rental housing discrimination, provide
wider access to rental assistance and
increase enforcement of Seattle fair housing
ordinances.

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INCLUDE MORE JUSTICE-INVOLVED PEOPLE IN
HOUSING PROGRAMS

O BALTIMORE: The Housing Authority of
Baltimore County (HABC) is participating in a
“Ex-Offender Program” (EOP) in partnership
with the Mayor’s Office on Criminal Justice and
Baltimore Homeless Services. HABC set aside
200 Housing Choice (tenant-based Section
8) vouchers to assist chronically homeless
individuals and their families find permanent
housing while receiving other communitybased reentry supports. Individuals who are
ineligible for other housing programs due to
criminal record restrictions would be eligible
for this opportunity.
O COLUMBUS: A program of Community
ACT Rebuilding Lives and HUD Supportive
Housing Program has been established for
people with criminal histories who meet HUD’s
definition of chronically homeless with mental
illness. The program serves approximate 200
individuals with criminal records annually in
its programs. Permanent housing units are
located throughout Franklin County, and
a range of mental health, drug treatment
and other services are provided to tenants.
Participants must be age 18 and older and
disabled by mental illness and/or substance
use disorders.
O SAN ANTONIO: The San Antonio Housing
Authority (SAHA) received a $600,000 grant
in 2015 from the Byrne Criminal Justice
Innovation Program to create the Resurgence
Collaborative, a network of 13 social service
providers working to facilitate reintegration
for Eastside San Antonio probationers. The
collective is “co-located with a probation field
office” and serves some 500 probationers and
their families on the eastside of San Antonio.

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INNOVATIVE STATE AND LOCAL INITIATIVES
To open up private housing a number of states and municipalities have
launched efforts to increase access to privately owned housing for people
with criminal records and their families. Effective approaches include:

INCREASE PRIVATE/PUBLIC SUPPORTIVE HOUSING
DEVELOPMENTS
O CALIFORNIA: The Tenderloin Housing
Clinic is a nonprofit organization in San
Francisco that prevents tenant displacement,
preserves and expands the City’s low cost
housing stock and provides comprehensive
legal assistance to low income tenants. It has
partnered with the San Francisco Superior
Court and Adult Probation Department
to convert hotels into single-roomoccupancies (SROs). These are available for
free to probationers and individuals recently
released from prison or jail who also have
drug or alcohol dependencies.
Residents are temporarily housed in furnished
rooms and are paired with case managers
to help them manage their recovery and
reintegration into the community. The goal
is to transition residents to permanent
supportive housing that the city is also
working to develop. Resources from the
initiative come from the state’s realignment
funds, which pay counties to deal with
individuals convicted of low-level offenses
and released from state prisons.
O
NEW YORK: The Fortune Society of
New York provides a wide variety of services
to justice-involved people. Because many
of its clients could not return home to their
families or find other housing after their
release from incarceration,, Fortune decided
to develop its own affordable and supportive
housing for its clients. It created Fortune
Castle Gardens, a $44 million permanent
housing complex in West Harlem. In 2010
they opened the 11-story building, which has
114 apartments, More than half are occupied
by people who were formerly incarcerated
or homeless; the rest are reserved for
low-income residents. Castle Gardens
provides its tenants support services such as

counseling, case management and financial
planning.
In Syracuse, the Fortune Society is working
with the Center for Community Alternatives,
Syracuse Housing Authority (SHA), SWBR
and Marc Norman of Syracuse University
to plan an apartment building containing
approximately 50 units.
Nine of those
apartments will be reserved for re-entry
housing for singles and families, three shelter
units will provide beds for approximately
11 homeless singles and the remainder
of the apartments will house low income
individuals and families eligible for public
housing. Syracuse residents will be provided
with jobs during both the construction and
operational phases of this program.
O MINNESOTA: For nearly twenty years
RS Eden has been providing permanent
supportive housing to the most marginalized
individuals in their community, justiceinvolved individuals suffering with substance
use disorders. Today, they operate nine
supportive housing developments with over
500 units of permanent, sober, supportive
and affordable housing and 32 units of
transitional housing in the Twin Cities of
Minneapolis and St. Paul. The agency’s
developments provide permanent lowincome housing for families, single adults,
and young people.
Support services
for families include family-centered case
management, life skills services, tenantdriven activities and council, and access to
employment services. The entire family is
engaged in the program goals and services.
The single adult locations offer all or some
support services to its residents including
case management, peer groups, onsite
recovery groups, and part-time onsite
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23

employment services. RS Eden’s youth housing
is sober supportive permanent housing for
young people who have been “out-of-home”
for over six month. While living at the Seventh
Landing, that consists of studio (efficiency)
apartments, a community meeting room, staff
offices, and the nonprofit business and job skills
training program, Fresh Grounds Café. The
receive case management, life skills, and access
to employment services. Moreover, tenants may
participate in the Fresh Grounds Café and Youth
Training Program (PIC), which is a supportive
employment training program for young people
ages 15 and up. Youth are engaged in a 6-week
curriculum that includes on-the-job skill building
in the full service café, vocational development
support, and linkage to employment in the café
and in the wider community following training.
O
OHIO: The Returning Home Ohio Pilot
Project provides housing and supportive
services for people who have histories of chronic
homelessness or are at-risk of homelessness upon
their release from state prisons. It is collaboration
between the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation
and Correction and the Corporation for
Supportive Housing.

USE TAX CREDITS TO SPUR AFFORDABLE HOUSING
AND CREATE SET-ASIDES FOR THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE
POPULATION
O NEW JERSEY: The Special Needs Division of
the New Jersey’s Housing and Mortgage Finance
Agency administers a number of programs to
help vulnerable populations. including youth
leaving the juvenile justice system and formerly
incarcerated people re-entering communities.
One of them gives tax credits to landlords who
rent to people with special needs, as well as
support services. This benefit is now available
for 25% of New Jersey’s “tax credit units.”59
O CALIFORNIA: In 2015, the state passed a
law to expand its cap on Low Income Housing
Tax Credits (LIHTC) from $70 million to $300
million per year, adding to efforts to reduce
homelessness among formerly incarcerated
Californians. The state tax credit would have
augmented federal LIHTC allocations. However,
the governor vetoed the law.60

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ENACT ANTI-DISCRIMINATION PROTECTIONS AND
BAN THE BOX ON HOUSING APPLICATIONS
O
CHAMPAIGN, IL: Champaign’s Human Rights
Ordinance prohibits housing providers from
discriminating against individuals with a prior arrest
or conviction record.61 Housing providers may only
consider convictions for a forcible felony, a felony drug
conviction or a conviction for the sale, manufacture or
distribution of illegal drugs.62 The conviction record
may not be the basis for a denial if the person has
been out of prison at least five (5) consecutive years
without being convicted of an offense involving the
use of force or violence or the illegal use, possession,
distribution, sale or manufacture of drugs.63 Finally, the
ordinance also prohibits individuals from promoting
in writing or verbally any limitation or preference that
excludes a protected group, such as individuals with
criminal records.64 Landlords can be fined up to $500
for each violation.
O SAN FRANCISCO: San Francisco’s “ban-the-box”
ordinance applies to housing decisions. It prohibits
inquiries about an applicant’s criminal record until
a determination has been made that the applicant
satisfies all other requirements. It also bars any
inquiries about arrests that did not lead to conviction
and consideration of convictions older than seven
years. Finally, it requires that applicants be provided a
notice of their rights under the law.
O NEWARK: Under Article 2 of Newark’s “ban-thebox” ordinance, inquiries into a housing applicant’s
criminal record must be delayed until after the initial
application. Applicants must be informed about their
rights and also must consent to a criminal background
check. Landlords and real estate brokers cannot
inquire about or consider arrests that did not lead to
conviction, expunged or sealed records, or records
of juvenile delinquency. They also may not consider
convictions older than eight years except for murder,
manslaughter, and sexual offenses. If they rely on
criminal history information, landlords and real estate
brokers must consider the nature and seriousness of the
offense, how long ago it occurred, whether it is likely
to reoccur in housing, and evidence of rehabilitation.
O URBANA, IL: Urbana’s Human Rights Ordinance
prohibits housing providers from discriminating
against individuals with a prior arrest or conviction
record.65 The city does not make any exceptions and
requires all individuals with any conviction history
to be considered on a case-by-case basis. Housing
providers are prohibited from promoting in writing or
verbally any limitation or preference that excludes a
protected group. Violators of the law can be fined up
to $500 for each violation.66
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25

PROMOTE FAMILY REUNIFICATION THROUGH
PAROLE POLICIES
O
NEW YORK: In 2015, New York State’s
Department of Corrections and Community
Supervision (DOCCS) issued Directive 9401.
This reversed a policy that prohibited people
returning from state prison from residing with
their spouses or partners even when there was
no history of domestic violence between them.
Parole investigators are now required to make
individualized determinations of indications of
domestic violence involving those partners.

REDUCE LANDLORD LIABILITY
O
NORTH CAROLINA: North Carolina’s
Certificate of Relief is granted to people
with certain conviction records. It eliminates
automatic disqualification for housing (as well as
employment and other necessities) and serves as
evidence of rehabilitation for public and private
decision makers. The law also limits civil actions
against private landlords who lease to people
who have received a Certificate of Relief.
O TEXAS: In 2015, the Texas legislature passed
HB1510 to limit landlord liability and incentivize
landlords to provide housing to individuals
previously involved in the criminal justice system.
HB1510 “[provides] landlords with limited
protection against liability solely for renting or
leasing to someone with a criminal record, thus
increasing housing opportunities among these
individuals. This policy will help individuals with
records stabilize their living situation, be better
able to support their families, and live law-abiding
lives in our communities.”67
In
addition,
the
National
Apartment
Association’s Government Affairs department
has recommended that in order to allay housing
providers’ concerns, jurisdictions should provide
a waiver of liability to shield owners and managers
from liability if a resident who was approved
according to the mandates of anti-discrimination
laws commits a crime on the property.68

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CONCLUSION
Housing is an essential foundation for successful reentry and also a critical part of family preservation.

As policymakers and communities grapple with
the challenges of ending mass incarceration and
improving public safety and health, they should
eliminate barriers to safe and stable housing for
people with criminal records and their families. That
means adopting housing policies and practices
that expand eligibility for justice-involved people
and their families as well as other marginalized
populations.

In addition, communities across the country
should work together to expand the availability of
affordable housing and support the needs of the
individuals and families affected by homelessness.
This will require housing providers, Public Housing
Authorities, HUD, private and nonprofit developers,
bankers, and corporate executives to leverage
resources to expand the availability of affordable
housing and develop new housing.
Taking initiatives on these fronts will help
communities address the twin challenges of mass
incarceration and homelessness and, in the process,
brighten the futures of millions of Americans,
including children.

24
aurore

27

ENDNOTES

25
28

aurore

1The U.S. Conference of Mayors, Hunger and
Homelessness Survey: A Status Report On Hunger and
Homelessness In America’s Cities, A 22-City Survey 15
(2015), at https://www.usmayors.org/pressreleases/
uploads/2015/1221-report-hhreport.pdf.
2 Maurice Emsellem & Michelle Natividad Rodriguez,
Nat’l Employment Law Project, Advancing A Federal
Fair Chance Hiring Agenda 2 (2015), at http://www.
nelp.org/content/uploads/2015/01/Report-Federal-FairChance-Hiring-Agenda.pdf.
3 U.S. Dep’t of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice
Statistics, Bull. No. NCJ 248629, Jail Inmates At Midyear
2014 8 (2015), at http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/
jim14.pdf.
4 Federal Interagency Re-Entry Council, National
Re-Entry Week Fact Sheet, 1 (2016), at https://
csgjusticecenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/FIRCFact-Sheet_4.25.16_CSG.pdf.
5 See Nat’l Health Care for the Homeless Council,
Criminal Justice, Homelessness and Health 2012 Public
Policy Statement 1 (2012), at http://www.nhchc.org/wpcontent/uploads/2011/09/Criminal-Justice-2012.pdf
6 Barrett A. Lee, Kimberly A. Tyler, and James D. Wright,
The New Homelessness Revisited 7 (2010), at https://
www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4045444/pdf/
nihms-583582.pdf.
7 See C. L. Caton, et al., Risk Factors For Long-Term
Homelessness: Findings From a Longitudinal Study
of First-Time Homeless Single Adults, 95 Am J Public
Health 1753-9 (2005), at https://www.researchgate.net/
publication/7628609_Risk_Factors_for_Long-Term_
Homelessness_Findings_From_a_Longitudinal_Study_
of_First-Time_Homeless_Single_Adults
8 See Michael Leo Owens, 2.7 Million Children Under
the Age of 18 Have a Parent in Prison or Jail - We Need
Criminal Justice Reform Now, The Guardian (2013),
at http://www.alternet.org/civil-liberties/27-millionchildren-under-age-18-have-parent-prison-or-jail.
9 See The Annie E. Casey Foundation, A Shared
Sentence: The Devastating Toll Of Parental Incarceration
On Kids, Families And Communities, 4 (2016), mediad.
publicbroadcasting.net/p/healthnewsfl/files/201604/
incarcerated_parents.pdf.
10 Jocelyn Fontaine, Urban Institute, Examining Housing
As A Pathway To Successful Reentry: A Demonstration
Design Process, 3 (2013), at http://www.urban.org/
sites/default/files/alfresco/publication-pdfs/412957Examining-Housing-as-a-Pathway-to-Successful-ReentryA-Demonstration-Design-Process.PDF.
11 In “Divergent Moral Visions” –Collateral
consequences in Europe and the U.S. (July 19, 2016),
Margaret Love, executive director and editor of the
Collateral Consequences Reentry Resource Center,
states, “Whereas in this country people convicted of
crime are subject to a lifetime of legal restrictions and
social stigma analogous to older forms of civil death,
and are effectively consigned to a king of ‘internal
exile,’ in Europe people who have committed a crime
benefit from numerous measures to encourage their
reintegration.” She discusses Joshua Kleinfeld’s article

Two Cultures of Punishment that compares
America’s system of punishment to Europe’s, which
is considered milder and more humane. http://
ccresourcecenter.org/2016/07/19/divergent-moralvision-collateral-consequences-in-europe-and-theu-s/.
12 See Michelle Natividad Rodriguez & Maurice
Emsellem, National Employment Law Project,
65 Million Need Not Apply: The Case For
Reforming Criminal Background Checks For
Employment, 7 (2011), at http://nelp.org/content/
uploads/2015/03/65_Million_Need_Not_Apply1.
pdf.
13 See Marie Claire Tran-Leung, Sergeant Shriver
National Center On Poverty Law, When Discretion
Means Denial – A National Perspective On Criminal
Records Barriers To Federally Subsided Housing, 11
(2015), at http://povertylaw.org/sites/default/files/
images/publications/WDMD-final.pdf.
14 42 U.S.C. §1437n (f).
15 42 U.S.C. §13661(a).
16 42 U.S.C. §13661(b); 13662.
17 Marie Claire Tran-Leung, Sergeant Shriver
National Center On Poverty Law, When Discretion
Means Denial – A National Perspective On Criminal
Records Barriers To Federally Subsided Housing, 11
(2013), at http://povertylaw.org/sites/default/files/
images/publications/WDMD-final.pdf.
18 Eric Wright, et al. Georgia State University,
ATLANTA YOUTH COUNT! Final Report 2015
Atlanta Youth Count and Needs Assessment, 13
(2016), at http://atlantayouthcount.weebly.com/
uploads/7/9/0/5/79053356/aycna_final_report_
may_2016_final.pdf.
19 Cisgender describes people whose self-identity
conforms with the gender that corresponds to their
biological sex. They are not transgender.
20 Wright, et al., supra note 18, at 14.
21 Id., at 34.
22 H. Lane Dennard, Jr. And Patrick C. Dicarlo,
Collateral Consequences Of Arrests And
Convictions: Policy And Law In Georgia, 26 (2009),
at http://www.gjp.org/wp-content/uploads/
Collateral1.pdf.
23 Atl. Hous. Auth., Statement of Corporate
Policies, Chapter 1, Article Fifteen (Adopted
March 25, 2015). http://atlantahousing.org/docs/
corporate-policies.pdf. The agency’s policy is to
consider arrests, convictions and outstanding
warrants for all violent and/or drug-related crimes,
no matter how old the record. For new applicants,
the agency requires consideration of any arrests,
convictions or outstanding warrants for nonviolent and non-drug related criminal offenses
occurring within the past 5 years of date of arrest
or conviction. Non-violent and non-drug related
criminal offenses, any arrests, convictions and
outstanding warrants that occurred during the
period of tenancy are also considered during lease
renewal or termination.

24 See City of Baltimore Mayor’s Office of Human
Services, Homeless Services Program, at http://humanservices.baltimorecity.gov/homeless-services.
25 See Justice Policy Institute and Prison Policy
Initiative, The Right Investment? Corrections Spending
in Baltimore City, 1 (2015), at http://www.justicepolicy.
org/uploads/justicepolicy/documents/executive_
summary_rightinvestment_2.23.15_final.pdf.
26 As of 2008, in its evaluation of tenants and
applicants, HABC has not considered criminal charges
that resulted in a dismissal, acquittal, probation before
judgment and a few other kinds of charges.
27 See Homeless Alliance of Western New York,
Buffalo City Mission, Annual Report on The State of
Homelessness In Western New York (2016), available at
http://wnyhomeless.org/wp-content/uploads/Annualreport-2015_infographic.png.
28 See Erin S. Torcello, Bond, Schoeneck & King LLC,
Labor and Employment: City of Buffalo Passes “Ban
The Box” Legislation, (2013), at http://www.bsk.com/
media-center/2612-labor-employment-city-buffalopasses-ban-box-legislation
29 See Katherine Russell-Sponaugle, Buffalo
News, Another Voice: Time To Reframe Criminal
Background Checks In Housing, (2016), at http://www.
buffalonews.com/opinion/another-voice/anothervoice-time-to-reframe-criminal-background-checks-inhousing-20160220.
30 See Buffalo Mun. Hous. Auth., Admissions
and Continued Occupancy Plan, 41 (2014), at
http://www.city-buffalo.com/files/1_2_1/BMHA/
ProposedAdmContOccPolicy.pdf.
31 Tran-Leung, supra note 17 at 35. (“Some
admissions policies broadly eliminate anyone with
a criminal history, even if that history may only be
tenuously related to being a good tenant…Other
[public housing authorities] and project owners [for
instance, the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority]
accomplish the same result by adding so many
categories that they essentially exclude anyone who
ever interacted with the criminal justice system.”)
See also, Buffalo Mun. Hous. Auth., Admissions and
Continued Occupancy Policy 21 (July 1, 2012) (New
York), http://www.ci.buffalo.ny.us/files/1_2_1/BMHA/
AdmissionsContinuedOccupancyPolicy_revised.
pdf (allowing Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority to
consider almost any kind of crime as a reason to deny
housing to tenant-applicants, with no limits on the
lookback period). Isabel Shapiro, a housing specialist
with the reentry nonprofit PeacePrints, believes it is an
“open secret” that people with criminal records will be
categorically denied from housing with the BMHA.
32 Melinda Miller, Buffalo News, Housing First”
Program Aims To End Homelessness – And In Buffalo,
It’s Almost There, (2015), at http://www.buffalonews.
com/city-region/buffalo/housing-first-program-aimsto-end-homelessness-x2013-and-in-buffalo-its-almostthere-20151224 . The “Housing First” voucher
program, administered by the Mat Urban Center, grants
vouchers to chronically homeless individuals without

mandating other requirements. The Housing First
voucher has brought the number of chronic homeless
down from 400 to 25.
33 See Community Shelter Board, Data Highlights:
System & Program Indicator Report for 4th Quarterly
Period: 4/1/16 – 6/30/16, (2016), at http://docs.csb.org/
news-CSB-Communique-10316.pdf.
34 See Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority,
Initial Tenant Application Public Housing Program, at
http://www.cmhanet.com/wp-content/uploads/TenantApplication.pdf.
35 See Coalition for the Homeless, Basic Facts
About Homeless: New York City, at http://www.
coalitionforthehomeless.org/basic-facts-abouthomelessness-new-york-city/.
36 Id.
37 See NY American Civil Liberties Union (NYACLU).
[Press Release: 3/22/13]. Analysis Finds Racial
Disparities, Ineffectiveness in NYPD Stop-And-Frisk
Program; Links Tactic to Soaring Marijuana Arrest Rate,
at http://www.nyclu.org/news/analysis-finds-racialdisparities-ineffectiveness-nypd-stop-and-frisk-programlinks-tactic-soar.
38 See NYS Dep’t of Corrections and Community
Supervision, Fact Sheet November 1, 2016, at http://
www.doccs.ny.gov/FactSheets/PDF/currentfactsheet.
pdf.
39 See Mireya Navarro, The New York Times (2013, Nov.
14), Ban On Former Inmates In Public Housing Is Eased,
at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/15/nyregion/banon-former-inmates-in-public-housing-is-eased.html.
40 See Facts about NYCHA, Revised April 11, 2016, at
https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/nycha/downloads/pdf/
factsheet.pdf.
41 See NYC Hous. Auth., Tenant Selection and
Assignment Plan, revised January 22, 2016, at https://
www1.nyc.gov/assets/nycha/downloads/pdf/TSAPlan.
pdf.
42 Id.
43 See NYACLU, supra note 37.
44 KSTX Here and Now, San Antonio Bucks Texas
Trend of Rising Homelessness, (2016), at http://tpr.
org/post/source-san-antonio-bucks-texas-trend-risinghomelessness#stream.
45 See San Antonio Hous. Auth., Admissions and
Continued Occupancy Policy 2015-2016, at http://www.
saha.org/images/2015-2016MTWSubmission_ACOP.pdf
(last viewed 30 June 2016)
46 Emily Werth, Sargent Shriver National Center on
Poverty, The cost of Being ‘Crime Free’: Legal and
Practical Consequences of Crime Free Rental Housing
and Nuisance Property Ordinances 3 (2013), at http://
povertylaw.org/sites/default/files/files/housing-justice/
cost-of-being-crime-free.pdf
47See Ogden City Administrative Policy No. 7145,
Good Landlord Program, at http://citydocs.ogdencity.
com/FileGetter/getFile.aspx?Doc=00017663.PDF&Key=
4F316F5DFC0DE020CEA0E98FE14A67A71D1565EF&s
ave=false.
48 See WIS. STAT. § 66.0104.

26

aurore

29

49 See Letter From Shaun Donovan, Secretary, U.S. Dep’t
of Housing and Urban Development, To Public Housing
Authority Executive Directors (June 17, 2011), at https://
www.usich.gov/resources/uploads/asset_library/Rentry_
letter_from_Donovan_to_PHAs_6-17-11.pdf and https://
csgjusticecenter.org/documents/0000/1344/3.30.12_
MFamily_properties_Reentry_memo_6__2_.pdf
50 See Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, [Press
Release: 11/03/15], HUD Praises Reentry Projects Like
Those Advocated by CCH’s Reentry Project, at http://
www.chicagohomeless.org/hud-praises-reentry-housingpilot-advocated-by-cchs-reentry-project/
51 See Office of General Counsel Guidance on
Application of Fair Housing Act Standards to the Use
of Criminal Records by Providers of Housing and Real
Estate-Related Transactions, (April 4, 2016), at https://
portal.hud.gov/hudportal/documents/huddoc?id=HUD_
OGCGuidAppFHAStandCR.pdf
52 See City of Seattle, Office for Civil Rights [Press
Release: 6/9/15], City Files Charges Against 13 Property
Owners For Alleged Violations Of Rental Housing
Discrimination, at http://www.seattle.gov/Documents/
Departments/CivilRights/socr-pr-060915.pdf.
53See Fortune Society [Press Release: 10/31/14], New
Lawsuit Challenges Landlord’s Ban On Renting To
Those With Criminal Records, at http://fortunesociety.
org/2014/10/31/press-release-new-lawsuit-challengeslandlords-ban-on-renting-to-those-with-criminal-records/.
54 Moving to Work is a national demonstration program
funded by HUD in several cities across the country to
allow public housing authorities to design and test
housing programs that respond to the specific needs of
their homeless communities. The project permits public
housing authorities to waive various rules and regulations
in order make choices about how programs and services
are delivered to their neediest populations and respond
to specific affordable housing needs in their community.
See HUD Moving To Work at http://portal.hud.gov/
hudportal/HUD?src=/program_offices/public_indian_
housing/programs/ph/mtw
55 NYS Gov. Andrew Cuomo [Press Release: 9/21/15],
Governor Cuomo Announces Executive Actions
To Reduce Barriers for New Yorkers with Criminal
Convictions, at https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/
governor-cuomo-announces-executive-actions-reducebarriers-new-yorkers-criminal-convictions.
56 See City of Seattle Resolution Record No. 31669,
at http://seattle.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.
aspx?ID=2737445&GUID=4E0573F5-8990-47D2-BE8D85BE81C1E83B.
57 Id.
58 See Molly Reilly (2015, May 28). The Huffington Post,
How San Francisco Is Helping Give Ex-Offenders A Better
Shot, at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/28/
housing-for-ex-offenders_n_7460476.html.
59 See State of NJ Housing & Mortgage Finance Agency,
Tax Credit Supportive Housing Cycle, at http://www.
njhousing.gov/dca/hmfa/developers/needs/about/
60 See Gov. Jerry Brown Veto Statement (10/10/16).
Governor Brown Vetoes Legislation In Order To Help

27

Maintain California’s Fiscal Stability, at https://www.gov.
ca.gov/news.php?id=19162.
61 Champaign Municipal Code §17‐3 (11), at https://
www.municode.com/library/il/champaign/codes/
code_of_ordinances?nodeId=MUCO_CH17HURI_
ARTVDIHOCOSP_S17-71DIGE.
62 Champaign Municipal Code § 17-75 (e).
63 Id.
64 Champaign Municipal Code § 17-71 (6).
65 Urbana Code of Ordinance §§12‐39, 12‐64.
66 Urbana Code of Ordinance § 12-101.
67 See Public Policy Center, Texas Criminal Justice
Coalition, House Bill 1510 Implementation Guide For
Renters and Advocates, at http://publicpolicycenter.
texascjc.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/HB-1510Implementation-Guide-for-Renters-and-Advocates.
pdf?mc_cid=804c65f78b&mc_eid=ae02c7009e
68 See National Apartment Association, Criminal
Background Checks Toolkit: A Guide to Addressing
Housing and Employment Protections for ExOffenders, 23 (2015), at http://web.sdcaa.com/
External/WCPages/WCWebContent/WebContentPage.
aspx?ContentID=216

HELPING MOMS, DADS & KIDS TO COME HOME:
ELIMINATING BARRIERS TO HOUSING FOR
PEOPLE WITH CRIMINAL RECORDS
DECEMBER 2016

Legal Action Center
225 Varick Street, Suite 402
New York, NY 10014
212-243-1313
www.lac.org
www.hirenetwork.org

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