Report: Public-Housing Policies Exclude People with Criminal Records
Wednesday, March 1, 2023
A new report calls for public housing authorities to change certain policies to prevent excluding people with criminal records.
The Prison Policy Initiative report finds some public-housing policies work against people who once were convicted, for instance, of using marijuana. While it's legal in 37 states and Washington D.C., the Department of Housing and Urban Development prohibits marijuana use in public housing, since it is still illegal at the federal level.
Wanda Bertram, communications strategist for the Prison Policy Initiative, said access to housing is critical to help people restart their lives.
"Someone coming out of prison might have a whole host of issues to work on," Bertram explained. "They might have a health issue, they may have a substance use problem, they might have a mental illness. These are all issues that are disproportionately prevalent among people leaving prison. They might not have very many job prospects, but in order to begin tackling all of those problems, they need a place to live."
In Connecticut, legislation to ensure landlords would not discriminate against prior offenders stalled in the General Assembly. The state's "Clean Slate Law," which erases the criminal records of those who remain crime-free for an extended period, went into effect this year, but it only applies to people convicted of misdemeanors and lower-level felonies.
The report recommends public housing authorities could be more inclusive by removing lengthy "look-back periods" in screening prospective renters, and issuing clear explanations about why a person was denied housing. Bertram noted changes to the appeals process would also aid people with criminal records.
"With public housing authorities there's always, in theory, an option to appeal if you're denied," Bertram acknowledged. "There should be an option to have the authority review your case. Now, authorities need to make that option basically guaranteed to everybody who's denied, including people who are denied based on a criminal record."
HUD issued guidance in 2016 and in 2022 to ensure public housing authorities do not exclude people on the basis of a criminal record, but there is no clear picture of whether they are following the guidance.
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