1 in 13 Americans Could Benefit From HUD Plan To Help People With Criminal Record Find Housing

Photo Credit: Jay Sterling Austin licensed under CC BY 2.0

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is working on a plan that will make it easier for Americans with a criminal record to find housing.

On Tuesday, HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge sent a memo to staff instructing them to review policies and programs that “pose barriers to housing for persons with criminal histories or their families.” Staffers have six months to propose updates and amendments to those policies and programs in order to maintain consistency with their directive to “make our policies as inclusive as possible.”

Any changes made to HUD policies would likely affect what is commonly known as “Section 8,” rental assistance voucher programs. Any federally-funded public housing authorities would also be affected.

According to the FBI, roughly a third of Americans –  between 70 to 100 million – have a criminal record. Of those, the nonpartisan think tank Prison Policy Initiative estimates around 19 million have a felony conviction. In addition, according to The Sentencing Project, Black Americans are incarcerated at nearly five times the rate of whites and Latinos are 1.3 times more likely to be incarcerated than whites.

“We must understand the potentially discriminatory impact exclusions based on criminal history can have on protected classes,” Fudge wrote, noting that criminal records should only be considered to the extent that applicants pose a current risk to people or property.

“Criminal histories are used to screen out or evict individuals who pose no actual threat to the health and safety of their neighbors,” Fudge wrote.

According to Akira Drake Rodriguez, assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Weitzman School of Social Policy and Practice, HUD should implement sweeping reforms.

“HUD properties were some of the first to discriminate against those with convictions and arrests, and could set a great example by striking down these discriminatory practices and building out special vouchers to address the unique housing needs of incarcerated peoples,” Drake Rodriguez said.

In 2021, President Joe Biden signed an executive order announcing that the federal government would pursue a comprehensive approach to fighting systemic racism. The order, titled Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government directs all federal agencies to identify potential barriers preventing people from underserved communities from enrolling and accessing federal benefit programs.

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