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NHLP Housing Law Bulletin Article: The Importance of Stable Housing for Formerly Incarcerated Individuals

Excerpted from Vol. 40, Issue 2, February 2010

Each year more than 725,000 people leave state and federal prisons. An additional 230,000 people leave county jails every week. Formerly incarcerated individuals struggle to secure employment, obtain medical care and avoid substance abuse. According to criminal justice officials, however, finding housing is the biggest challenge faced by individuals returning to the community. This article identifies the barriers to accessing stable housing, describes the housing arrangements of individuals returning to the community and explores the relationship between residential instability and recidivism.

NHLP Housing Law Bulletin Article: Litigation Approaches to Challenging Subsidized Housing Denials Based on Applicants’ Criminal History

Excerpted from Vol. 43, Issue 4, April 2013

In 2010 and 2011, staff attorneys at Bay Area Legal Aid saw a pattern of clients whose applications for housing choice vouchers or public housing had been denied because of past criminal activity. The clients had three things in common – they had been on the waitlist for public housing or the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program for many years, they had a criminal record that was many years old, and they were otherwise qualified for subsidized housing. This article discusses approaches to challenging these types of denials.

United States Interagency Council on Homelessness Report: Connecting People Returning from Incarceration with Housing and Homelessness Assistance

This report provides guidance on how local service providers, governments, and other partners can expand housing opportunities and break the cycle of homelessness for people exiting the criminal justice system.

U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing Criticizes Federal One-Strike Policies

The UN Special Rapporteur recommends that the federal government "prohibit the use of criteria such as drug tests and criminal records, for gaining access to subsidized housing."

In late October, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing undertook an official visit to the U.S. to "examine the realization of the right to adequate housing, in particular in relation to subsidized housing programs, the homeless situation and the foreclosure crisis." She met with federal, state, and local government officials, non-profit organizations, and community members in six cities and on one Native American reservation. The Special Rapporteur released her report on February 12, 2010.

In her report, the Special Rapporteur criticizes federal policies that allow public housing authorities to screen and evict tenants on the basis of criminal activity. Although she recognizes that the government must protect residents of subsidized housing, she expresses her concern that one-strike policies discriminate against minorities, pointing to Bureau of Justice Statistics data showing that black and Hispanic men face a much higher chance of incarceration than white men. She also notes the “fragmenting effects” of one-strike policies on families. In addition, the Special Rapporteur indicates that despite passage of the Violence Against Women Act, one-strike policies continue to target victims of domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking.

Ultimately, the Special Rapporteur concludes that zero tolerance policies are not an appropriate way to maintain a safe environment in subsidized housing. She urges the federal government to “commit resources to determine the real effects of such policies on families, particularly minority families, and reform these policies.” In an even bolder step, she recommends that the federal government “prohibit the use of criteria such as drug tests and criminal records, for gaining access to subsidized housing.” It remains to be seen if HUD or Congress will take any action in response to the report.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act and Criminal Background Checks

When landlords use consumer reporting agencies to conduct criminal background checks on prospective tenants, the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act applies. This outline highlights the relevant provisions of the FCRA and indicates where the California Investigative Consumer Reporting Agencies Act imposes further obligations on landlords and consumer reporting agencies.

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