By Rachel Ramirez, Reentry Organizer
The Reentry Project Committee at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) is pleased that the federal housing agency has announced it favors providing “second chances” that reduce barriers to public housing for people with criminal records.
In a “guidance” issued November 2 to public housing authorities, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) said that arrest records can no longer be used to deny an applicant or evict a tenant from public housing or Housing Choice Vouchers. HUD said the rule change is being implemented because arrest records do not prove criminal activity.
President Obama also announced executive actions to help former prisoners rejoin society, including new policies impacting access to jobs, training and housing.
The guidance issued by HUD (PIH 2015-19) praised “best practice” programs that offer housing access, like the housing pilot designed and advocated by the CCH Reentry Project.
CCH worked with the housing authorities of Cook County and Chicago to implement both pilots. Launched this year, each program will house up to 50 ex-offenders over three years, either rejoining family or their own housing if their name comes up on a waitlist. Ex-0ffenders are recommended by select reentry service providers, including St. Leonard’s Ministries, Safer Foundation, Lutheran Social Services, and south suburban Respond Now.
CCH profiles the first person to be housed by Cook County’s pilot, Ford Heights resident Juanita Patton.
This summer, the CCH Reentry Project participated in a HUD phone conference with Chicago, Cook County, New York City and Los Angeles County housing authorities, all of which recently piloted re-entry housing programs.
In endorsing a variety of best practices, the HUD guidance cited programs that mirror another CCH initiative, adopted by the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA). It allows ex-0ffenders to “address and present mitigating circumstances regarding criminal backgrounds prior to admission decisions,” per HUD’s description.
Three years ago the CHA adopted our Reentry Project’s proposal that ex-offenders be told they can explain mitigating circumstances when applying and be informed of an appeal process if turned down. Previously, providers and the Illinois Department of Corrections were told not to have ex-offenders apply for housing at all.
The newly-issued guidance is described as HUD’s first official document in favor of increasing housing opportunities for people with criminal records. But in 2011, then-HUD Secretary Shawn Donovan issued a letter encouraging public housing authorities to adopt policies that allow people with criminal records to access public housing.
The 2011 letter was an important piece of support that CCH’s Reentry Committee used in its advocacy to persuade our local housing authorities to implement their reentry housing pilots.
Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law also writes about the HUD guidance, and what further actions HUD should endorse regarding criminal record screening.