Activists Want Landlords to Stop Discriminating Against Ex-Cons

June 18, 2019

Some cities are taking up ordinances that would prohibit landlords from denying people housing on the basis of a criminal conviction. The Cook County Board of Commissioners’ recent approval of an ordinance, which allows those with criminal convictions to more readily get housing in the Chicago area, is adding to the momentum behind activists’ efforts.

In nearly a dozen big cities, advocates are campaigning for the passage of “fair-chance housing ordinances” that would prevent landlords from denying applicants with prior convictions, reports. They also want to change the public’s perception of people who have once been incarcerated.

More than 600,000 people are released from confinement each year. Individuals who have been recently released or are paroled from prison are more likely to be homeless. Activists say their criminal records are preventing them from getting approved for an apartment or housing.

Eighty percent of formerly incarcerated people said they had experienced difficulty accessing housing after they were released, according to a report from the Ella Baker Center. The study notes that it didn’t matter what the conviction was for or how long ago it happened. Further, formerly incarcerated people said that they could also put their family members at risk of losing their housing if they lived with family.

In 2016, the Department of Housing and Urban Development weighed in on the issue by declaring in a policy memo that it was illegal for property owners to deny housing on the basis of a criminal conviction. The HUD memo said the 1968 Fair Housing Act prohibits landlords from discriminating in a way that results in a “disparate impact,” which HUD says applies to criminal records like it does other protected classes like race and gender.

That 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 “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.”

The Fight for Fair Chance Housing Ordinances,” (June 12, 2019)