WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) and U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY-14) on Wednesday introduced the Fair Chance at Housing Act of 2019, legislation to remove barriers to obtaining federal housing assistance for individuals with criminal records and their families. The proposal is a comprehensive reform of the eviction and screening policies so individuals with a criminal history have a fair chance at housing assistance.
“Too many people become involved in our criminal justice system and serve their time only to return home to face additional barriers to employment, education, and housing,” said Senator Harris. “As our country continues working toward much-needed reform of our criminal justice system, I am proud to work with Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez to ensure formerly incarcerated individuals and their families have access to safe and affordable housing as they transition back into their community. By requiring a higher standard of evidence and a more holistic review process, we are taking a significant step toward giving Americans a fair chance to succeed.”
“I am proud to join Senator Harris in introducing the Fair Chance at Housing Act. This legislation is one of many steps that need to be taken to repair our broken criminal justice system,” said Representative Ocasio-Cortez. “The denial of basic necessities to formerly incarcerated people does not make our communities safer. Denying housing to those that have been formerly incarcerated increases recidivism. Today we are taking a step to make our communities safer.”
The Fair Chance at Housing Act of 2019 represents a comprehensive reform of the eviction and screening policies for federal housing assistance, such as Public Housing and the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program. The legislation rolls back harmful policies that continue to unfairly threaten tenants with eviction for minor crimes in the absence of sufficient evidence, allow for the termination of the tenancy of an entire family because of the criminal activity of a guest even without the knowledge of anyone in the household, and continue to create unfair barriers to federal housing assistance for individuals who are trying to rebuild their lives.
This legislation aims to reduce recidivism by helping ex-offenders find stable housing and ensuring those currently receiving federal assistance are not unfairly evicted. For decades, the War on Drugs has done far more harm than good, wreaking havoc on American families through mass incarceration while having a very limited impact on rehabilitation. Moreover, these efforts have had profoundly disproportionate effects on minorities, who have historically been the primary target of harsh anti-drug policies. The consequences of these now-debunked policies reach much farther than the doors of our prisons. A criminal background can have lifelong implications for a person’s ability to obtain housing, employment, education, and to otherwise rebuild their lives. Access to stable housing in particular is one of the most important first steps to rehabilitation, but federal laws continue to pose unnecessary and punitive barriers to federal housing assistance for those with criminal records.
The Fair Chance at Housing Act of 2019 would:
- Ban blanket “1-strike” policies, which allow tenants to be evicted for a single incident of criminal activity, no matter how minor, in favor of a holistic review;
- Ban “no-fault” policies, which allow an entire family to be evicted for criminal activity by a guest of a household member even without the knowledge of anyone in the household;
- Raise the standards of evidence to be used by public housing authorities (PHAs) and owners and require a holistic consideration of all mitigating circumstances when making screening or eviction determinations based on criminal activity;
- Ensure that tenants who are evicted for criminal activity and applicants who are denied admission for criminal activity are given adequate written notice of the reasons for the decision, and the opportunity to present mitigating evidence or appeal a decision;
- Prohibit the use of suspicionless drug and alcohol testing by owners and PHAs;
- Provide PHAs with additional administrative funding for helping to house ex-offenders through the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program; and
- Authorize $10 million in bonus funding for homeless service providers through the Continuum of Care program to serve ex-offenders.
In sum, by preserving the ability of PHAs and owners to protect the health and safety of their properties, while simultaneously rolling back unjustified policies, this bill would reduce recidivism by helping ex-offenders find stable housing upon exiting a jail or prison. It would also help prevent homelessness by ensuring that individuals and households currently receiving federal housing assistance are not unfairly evicted.
This bill is supported by the NAACP, National Urban League, National Low Income Housing Coalition, National Housing Law Project, JustLeadershipUSA, Legal Action Center, National Association of Social Workers (NASW), Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, Human Rights Watch, National Alliance on Mental Illness, Coalition for Juvenile Justice, National Alliance to End Homelessness, National LGBTQ Task Force, Corporation for Supportive Housing, The Fortune Society, Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Housing Task Force , Public Justice Center, Drug Policy Alliance, Campaign for Youth Justice, GNO Fair Housing Center, The Prisoner Reentry Institute at John Jay College, Neighborhood Defender Services of Harlem, College & Community Fellowship, and Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, Inc.
“The NAACP is pleased and proud to support this much-needed legislation by Senator Harris,” said Hilary O. Shelton, the Director of the NAACP Washington Bureau and the Senior Vice President for Policy and Advocacy. “This bill will assist the Public Housing Authorities but, perhaps more importantly, it will help people who have been incarcerated rebuild their lives after they have paid their debt to society. It will also go a long way to ensure that families are not punished for the poor or criminal actions of a single family member. This legislation represents an essential step toward reducing recidivism by helping ex-offenders find stable housing upon exiting a jail or prison and by keeping their family free from punishment by association.”
“Every American deserves to live in safe, decent, and affordable housing on fair terms,” said Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League. “Many of our most vulnerable Americans live in public housing – seniors, children, persons with disabilities, and those living in poverty. These folks live under the looming risk of eviction because of harsh and arbitrary policies that penalize a family because someone in a household has been accused of a minor crime. The Fair Chance at Housing Act addresses this unfairness by reducing barriers to federal housing assistance for individuals who are trying to rebuild their lives. This bill is long overdue.”
“On behalf of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, I commend Senator Harris and Representative Ocasio-Cortez for their leadership in introducing The Fair Chance at Housing Act,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “By ensuring that returning citizens have a real opportunity to access federal housing assistance and rejoin their families and communities, this bill reduces the obstacles to housing that often prevent people from getting back on their feet after serving their time in jails or prisons.”
“If enacted, the Fair Chance at Housing Act would take a huge step in rolling back harmful policies that increase homelessness and force families to make choices between staying together and staying housed,” said Shamus Roller, Executive Director of the National Housing Law Project. “I applaud Senator Harris and Representative Ocasio-Cortez for introducing criminal justice reform legislation to help provide housing opportunity and stability to people who need it the most, including those with criminal records.”
For full bill text, click here.