A number of U.S. cities are taking action to prevent landlords from denying applications from previously convicted criminals. For example, in Cook County, officials there recently approved a new ordinance that aims to help those with criminal convictions find housing within Chicago more easily.
In fact, several big cities in the U.S. are pushing for what’s called “fair-chance ordinances”, which would block landlords from denying applicants from ex-convicts. Campaigners are also pushing to change public perceptions of ex-cons, Curbed.com reported.
Curbed notes in its article that more than 600,000 people are released from jail each year, and that those who are freed have a much higher chance than others of ending up homeless. That’s because in many cases, their criminal records prevent them from finding a place to live, as many landlords reject them out of hand.
There’s evidence to back up these claims. A recent report from the Ella Baker Center shows that around 80% of ex-cons report difficulty in finding housing after their release from jail. According to that report, it doesn’t seem to matter what they were convicted of either, nor how long ago the offense occurred. Further, formerly incarcerated people said that they could also put their family members at risk of losing their housing if they lived with family.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development weighed in on the debate in 2016, issuing a policy memo that stated it’s illegal for landlords to deny housing on the basis of a criminal conviction. According to the HUD, the 1968 Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in a way that results in a “disparate act”, which applies to criminal convictions as well as other characteristics such as race or gender.
The 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., in helping formerly incarcerated people have greater access to housing.
“It’s definitely gaining traction,” Marie Claire Tran-Leung, a lawyer at the Shriver Center on Poverty Law, told Curbed.com. “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.”