It is too often the case that people with criminal records, who have already paid their dues to society, face continued punishment through the system, such as being routinely denied access to education, jobs, and yes, housing.
However, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) are looking to fix at least the housing aspect of these issues with their Fair Chance at Housing Act of 2019, introduced on Wednesday.
According to a press release, the legislation seeks to break down the barriers around securing federal housing assistance for people who have criminal records and for their families.
Among a list of initiatives, the bill plans to ban policies which allow tenants to be evicted for any singular incident of criminal activity, regardless of how minuscule the alleged crime, favoring a more holistic view.
The bill also wants to pan “no-fault” policies which permit for entire families to be evicted for the criminal activity of a guest of a tenant, even though no one in the household had any knowledge of the activity.
The Fair Chance at Housing Act of 2019 also calls for tenants who do get evicted due to criminal activity—and applicants who are denied housing due to criminal activity—be given proper written notice of that decision, and the opportunity to appeal it.
It also seeks to end testing for drugs and alcohol without suspicion by owners and public housing authorities.
To cap it all off, the bill seeks to “authorize a $10 million in bonus funding for homeless service providers through the Continuum of Care program to serve ex-offenders,” the press release notes.
“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,” Harris said in the press release. “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,” Ocasio-Cortez added. “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 bill already has the support of various advocacy and activist organizations including the National Low Income Housing Coalition, National Housing Law Project, National Alliance on Mental Illness, Coalition for Juvenile Justice, National Alliance to End Homelessness, National LGBTQ Task Force, the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Housing Task Force, Public Justice Center, Drug Policy Alliance, and more.
“Every American deserves to live in safe, decent, affordable housing on fair terms,” Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League said in the press release. “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.”