New Fair Housing Policy Benefits Those Returning Home From Incarceration

New Orleans homes” by storyvillegirl is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Formerly incarcerated people will face less housing discrimination in Louisiana now that the Louisiana Housing Corporation (LHC) has created a new fair housing and tenant screening policy. Approved by the LHC’s board last week, the new policy will apply to 60,000 existing units across Louisiana and new units moving forward. It will also bring the agency and its grantees into compliance with the HUD’s fair housing guidance and ensure that people returning home from incarceration can reunite with family members and find safe, stable places to live.

Almost 50% of all adults have a criminal record in Louisiana. Likely an even higher percentage of adults applying for affordable housing through LHC’s programs also have conviction records. According to the policy, widespread racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal legal system require housing providers to ensure that their screening policies do not have an unjustified discriminatory effect. 

Housing providers can no longer consider records that did not result in a conviction or were expunged, vacated or acquired when the applicant was a minor. After individuals have repaid their debt to society, older convictions no longer haunt them. An individual’s criminal record is now weighed against evidence of good behavior, participation in social service or counseling programs, job training or employment, or recommendations from community leaders. 

Representatives of advocacy organizations including the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center (LaFHAC), Operation Restoration, the Vera Institute of Justice, VOTE, Southeast Legal Services and the Justice and Accountability Center provided input into the policy. 

“Today’s win was monumental! This was the result of hard work, community and stakeholders coming together at a time when the need for safe and affordable housing is a matter of life and death. We hope that landlords join us in recognizing that housing is a basic human need no matter someone’s background,” said Dolfinette Martin, the Housing Director at Operation Restoration and one of the formerly incarcerated women who spoke at LHC’s meeting last week.

It’s impossible to describe the magnitude of what being jousting insecure is, especially to women and girls. It is a period of my life I don’t yet have the words to fully articulate,” said Gabrielle Perry, MPH, founder and executive director of the Thurman Perry Foundation. 

“This is a victory for fair housing and public safety. When we lock people out of opportunity and make it harder to find a place or live or to find a job, we are fueling scarcity and desperation, and we are the ones creating dangerous conditions,” said Cashuana Hill, Executive Director of LaFLAC. 

LaFHAC’s research has also found that when equally paired Black and White mystery shoppers with the exact same conviction records inquired about criminal background screening policies, property managers encouraged White applicants to still apply and told them that everyone makes mistakes in college, while they told Black applicants they would probably be denied and suggested they go elsewhere. This new LHC policy will ensure that LHC founded apartment buildings offer consistent screening policies that do not violate 2016 HUD guidance or the Fair Housing Act.

“This new LHC policy is still far less comprehensive than recent laws passed in Seattle or New Jersey that bar consideration of most criminal records in all properties. However, it does meet our obligations under the HUD guidance and is based on similar policies already in place at housing finance agencies in North Carolina, Ohio and Georgia, and the policies in place at the housing authorities in New Orleans and Lafayette,” she continued.

In March, 2016 the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) passed a new policy that eliminated a ban on housing assistance to people with criminal records. The revised background check procedure created a more nuanced process in which each person’s case would be reviewed on an individual basis.

Subsequently approved by HUD, the new policy provided greater stability and opportunity and helped reduce recidivism and the overall incarceration rate.

The policy reads that “there is absolutely no presumption that the applicant with a criminal conviction should be denied housing assistance. Before making a decision to admit or deny the applicant, they shall be given an individualized review based on accurate information including notice and opportunity to be heard.” Each review is conducted by a three-person panel. The old policy gave HANO the opportunity to deny any applicant who themselves or a member of their family had been arrested for or convicted of criminal activity in the last seven years. 

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