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A Fair Chance at Housing Will Eliminate Barriers for Returning Citizens


A Fair Chance at Housing Will Eliminate Barriers for Returning Citizens

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In 2016, Pennsylvania State Representative Donna Johnson-Bullock introduced the Fair Chance at Housing Legislation, which would amend the Pennsylvania Landlord-Tenant Act to create systemic approaches that will help break down the barriers to housing stability faced by people with criminal records. The proposed legislation creates a process for a landlord to determine if an applicant is legally eligible and if the applicant is qualified to rent the housing unit under the housing provider’s criteria for assessing rental and credit history.

  •  An estimated 1 in 3 adults have a criminal record, one that bars them from accessing employment, housing, benefits, and other stabilizing measures, while Pennsylvania has a higher corrections population than all but eight states, resulting in large numbers of people whose backgrounds include past criminal convictions.
  • Guidance released from The Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2016 states that policies which place blanket bans on tenants with criminal history may constitute potential violations of the Fair Housing Act. The HUD guidance supports amendments to existing laws that would ensure that arrests records or unrelated or remote convictions do not keep people from accessing affordable, stable housing, or rejoining with family members.
  • Housing admissions policies that exclude prospective tenants based on criminal records disproportionately impact African-Americans and Hispanics, who are more likely to have a criminal record; African American men, for example, are incarcerated at a rate more than six times that of white men. Because of Black and Hispanic overrepresentation in the criminal justice system, housing policies eliminating applicants based on criminal records create a discriminatory effect, absent any discriminatory intent on the part of the landlord.
  • Stable housing decreases the likelihood that previous offenders will reoffend, while research shows that recidivism declines over time. A criminal record is not predictive or indicative of successful tenancy, or future criminal activity, after 7 years of committing the offense, and therefore does not provide a legitimate basis for an automatic adverse housing decision.
  • Other data shows that many arrest records are simply incorrect. The US Department of Justice has stated that the FBI’s Interstate Identification Index system does not contain final disposition information for roughly half of its records, and it is the most comprehensive criminal records database in the country. FBI reports frequently fail to include the outcome of cases, resulting in cases being reported as pending that have been long resolved, often in the applicant’s favor. Therefore relying on arrests not resulting in conviction as a basis for denying applicants may result in unfair denials.
  • The proposed Fair Chance at Housing legislation strikes a fair balance between a landlord’s needs to maintain appropriate health and safety standards for their property with an applicant’s right to be considered fairly against all screening factors.
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