In a recent meeting with our Re-Entry Committee, Chicago Housing Authority CEO Charles Woodyard agreed to work with CCH to address stringent Housing Choice Voucher policies that restrict people with criminal backgrounds from accessing Section 8 housing.
CHA policies are significantly more restrictive than federal requirements imposed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). This includes a CHA policy that denies an applicant if s/he or any family member has committed a crime within five years of applying. Often, this is determined only by looking at an arrest record.
Pastor Charles Austin, a member of the Re-Entry Committee, shared with Mr. Woodyard how restrictive policies led to his loss of a Section 8 voucher based solely on an arrest, not a conviction.
“Doesn’t it feel good to get off work, put your key in the door and open it to see your own things inside?” added Re-Entry’s Sonovia Petty, a formerly incarcerated mother of two young sons. “Don’t you feel pride when you go home to your own place where your kids can play with their toys?”
Other cities have led the way by lowering barriers for people with criminal records. Seattle Housing Authority reduced the mandatory time an applicant must be out of prison before applying. In Los Angeles County, the housing authority dropped a restriction that denied people if they were on probation or parole, as applied to vouchers allocated for the homeless applicants.
At our meeting, Mr. Woodyard committed to do the following:
- Meet with the Re-Entry Committee every three months to discuss necessary CHA policy changes and issues relevant to re-entry.
- Compile information and report back on how CHA’s Section 8 voucher application process has worked for individuals with criminal backgrounds.
- To ask CHA staff to review changes that CCH proposed for the interview letters that CHA sends to applicants, and to meet with us to discuss this in a month. In 2011, CHA agreed to change its policy to promote a case-by-case upfront review of applicants’ backgrounds. However, the Re-entry Committee contends that the letter informing applicants of the change sounds discouraging and dissuades people from applying.
We are optimistic that our work with Mr. Woodyard and the CHA will lead to positive changes that help the formerly incarcerated people successfully reintegrate. CCH’s Re-Entry Committee is comprised of formerly incarcerated people as well as advocates and academics. More than 120 political leaders and organizations have endorsed the Reentry Committee’s 2010 position paper urging the CHA to allow applicants to access housing after a one-year wait.
-Rachel Ramirez, CCH re-entry organizer and Alyssa Copenhaver, organizing intern