Criminal records still a factor for
reentering citizens seeking a place to live
Among the numerous barriers the newly-freed face when reentering society is finding housing. To help formerly incarcerated people navigate this daunting issue, the nonprofit advocacy group Roots & Rebound Reentry Advocates has created a 32-page handbook titled Fair Chance Housing.
The booklet informs readers about two types of housing choices: federally funded and privately owned.
Federal programs include Housing Choice Vouchers, project-based Section 8 Rental Assistance and Section 202 housing if over the age of 62.
Applicants for federal housing face legal barriers that apply to the tenant and anyone who will be living at the residence. Those are listed in the handbook, such as:
- There is a lifetime ban for conviction of manufacturing methamphetamine, or any offense requiring registration as a lifetime sex offender.
- An applicant can face a temporary ban if evicted from a federal housing program due to drug-related activity.
- Applicants may not use illegal drugs. If the applicant was previously addicted but is no longer using drugs, rules prohibiting housing discrimination may provide protection.
- Engaging in violent criminal activity or other activities that pose a threat to the health, safety or peace of other residents can disqualify an applicant.
Information is available on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development website to help applicants determine their eligibility for federally assisted housing.
Privately owned housing includes Low-Income Tax Credit Housing, Shelter Plus Care, and the Supportive Housing Program.
A returning citizen should be aware of which questions a property owner can and cannot ask when considering an application for housing. For example, a landlord can ask you to consent to a background check, or list your convictions on the application. However, a landlord cannot ask about an arrest that did not lead to a conviction, prevent you from applying if you have a felony conviction, or run a background check on you because of your race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability or family status.
According to the Fair Chance Housing handbook, returning citizens should be aware of their criminal records. Conviction histories are available from the Department of Justice. The report will include arrests, convictions and acquittals. Fingerprints and a processing fee are required.
It may be helpful to tell a potential landlord how your life has changed since your conviction and that you have effectively completed parole, the handbook suggests. It also recommends that returning citizens compile documentation of successful participation in and completion of rehabilitative and self-help programs. Any documents or certificates showing educational milestones are helpful, including the completion of drug-treatment programs.
The booklet suggests providing proof of mitigating circumstances related to your conviction. For examples; a long time has passed since your conviction, you were very young at the time, and it may be that you were not as directly involved in the crime as others.
You can write Root & Rebound at 1730 Franklin St., Suite 300, Oakland, CA 94612. Their toll-free hotline is available Fridays 9-5 (510- 279-4662).