Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), Ranking Member of the Committee on Financial Services, today introduced legislation that would remove unfair barriers to obtaining federal housing assistance, such as Public Housing and the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program. The proposal – unveiled during National Fair Housing Month and National Reentry Week – would reform eviction and screening policies so that individuals with criminal backgrounds have a second chance and fair shot at housing assistance.
“Some of these policies are simply unfair: tenants can be evicted for crimes committed by a guest without their knowledge, they can be evicted for a single incident of criminal activity no matter how small the crime, and they can be evicted for criminal activity without much evidence that they actually committed the crime. Moreover, once a tenant is evicted from assisted housing for drug-related criminal activity, they are automatically banned for three years even if it was an unfair eviction,” Ranking Member Waters said. “This bill would reform the process so that everyone has a fair chance at maintaining access to stable, affordable housing.”
The Fair Chance at Housing Act of 2016 represents a comprehensive overhaul of eviction and screening policies for housing assistance programs under the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA). The legislation would raise the standards of evidence for eviction and screening when criminal activity is involved and require public housing authorities and property owners to take a holistic approach in their determinations. For example, they would have to consider mitigating factors, such as how long ago the offense occurred or if the individual is seeking rehabilitation services.
The measure would reduce recidivism and prevent homelessness by helping ex-offenders find stable housing and by ensuring that those currently receiving federal assistance are not unfairly evicted. As the country debates broader criminal justice reforms, Waters expressed particular concern with the negative effects a criminal record may have on an individual’s ability to obtain safe, decent, and affordable housing.
“The current harsh policies for housing assistance are a direct result of the harmful and ineffective legacies of the War on Drugs and the War on Crime,” Waters said. “Far too many Americans now carry a criminal record that limits their opportunities throughout life, despite the fact that they have successfully rehabilitated or taken great strides to change their lives. In particular, it has restricted access to housing assistance, which is a critical part of the rehabilitation and reentry process. The reforms in this bill will help ex-offenders get back on their feet, while ensuring that public housing authorities and owners maintain the authority to ensure the safety of other residents.”
For more details on the bill, view the executive summary and the section-by-section.
The text of the legislation can be found here.
Groups that support the bill include the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA), CSH, the National Housing Law Project (NHLP), the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH), the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP), the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights (LCCR), the National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund, the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Housing Task Force, the Arc of the United States, National Center for Transgender Equality, and the National Disability Rights Network.
“We applaud Representative Waters for her bold actions in addressing the housing barriers faced by people with criminal records,” said Diane Yentel, President and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “This bill will ensure that people who have served their time will have an opportunity to rejoin their families and communities and make the most of their second chance.”
“CSH has helped providers, including public housing authorities, eliminate barriers that deny those returning to our communities access to a home,” said Deborah De Santis, President and CEO of CSH. “The Fair Chance at Housing Act recognizes that we must end the discriminatory and expensive cycle of people endlessly ricocheting between homelessness and incarceration, or we will continue to endure unacceptable rates of despair, poverty and recidivism that directly impact public safety and well-being.”
“No comprehensive approach to ending mass incarceration or achieving criminal justice reform is complete without eliminating the barriers to housing choice that formerly incarcerated people and people with criminal records experience,” said Shanna Smith, President and CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance. “The Fair Chance at Housing Act of 2016 is an essential step toward putting a stop to the barriers that people with criminal records face once they’ve paid their debt to society. This bill is of particular importance to the recovery of African-American and Latino communities, as they have lost many fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and children due to tough-on-crime policies that have targeted communities of color. The fair housing community applauds this much-needed legislation and urges its swift passage.”