Today’s Read: Advocates Urge NYC to Ban Criminal Background Checks for Apartment Applicants

Stable housing is an essential foundation to help people reentering the community after incarceration get back on their feet, but too many people with records are denied this opportunity because they encounter discrimination as they seek housing. This discrimination, which disproportionately impacts Black and Latinx New Yorkers due to pervasive racism in the criminal legal system, directly contributes to record-high homelessness among single adults in New York City. An estimated 11 percent of single adults entering shelters in Fiscal Year 2019 cited release from jail or prison as their reason for homelessness, and a full 52 percent of people released from New York State prisons to New York City were released directly to shelters, comprising 3,614 people. These New Yorkers often struggle to leave shelters because background checks prevent them from accessing permanent, affordable housing.

As Coalition for the Homeless Policy Director Giselle Routhier explained:

“New York’s homelessness policies have been plagued by false starts, deliberate under-funding of local needs, and heavy-handed policing with far too little investment in the solutions proven to work. For individuals who were previously incarcerated, the path to stable housing is extraordinarily challenging, but the first step is actually helping them to access housing. It is crucial that we stop housing discrimination against people with conviction records and the harmful revolving door that endlessly channels them through jails, prisons, and shelters.”

Coalition for the Homeless is part of the Fair Chance for Housing Campaign, a broad coalition of individuals and organizations who believe that housing is a human right, and that allowing justice-involved people equal access to safe and stable housing strengthens our communities. Last week, 77 organizations submitted an open letter to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, calling on him and the City Council to immediately pass the Fair Chance for Housing Act, Intro. 2047-2020. This bill would end discrimination against people with arrest or conviction records so they can access the permanent, stable housing they need in order to thrive. Landlords and real estate brokers would be prohibited from doing background checks or inquiring about arrest or conviction record information at any stage in the application process. You can help call for the passage of Intro. 2047 by emailing your Council Member through this online tool.

David Brand wrote about the campaign for City Limits:

The Fair Chance for Housing Act would bar landlords and brokers from conducting criminal background checks on prospective tenants, a barrier to housing for the formerly incarcerated and their families.

Advocates and lawmakers say the measure is crucial for addressing the city’s homelessness problem by enabling more New Yorkers to move out of shelters.

“New York City is in the midst of a homelessness crisis. There are thousands of people stuck in the shelter system who have the means to get housing, but have been denied over and over again because they have convictions in their past,” wrote more than 75 tenants rights and justice reform groups in a letter to Council Speaker Corey Johnson last week, urging him to call the bill up for a vote. “A conviction has an end date, shouldn’t the punishment?” 

The supporters include the Coalition for the Homeless, the Fortune Society and the John Jay College Institute for Justice & Opportunity.

Eighty individual advocates, including people with criminal convictions who have been denied housing because of their records, also signed the letter to Johnson and the Council Wednesday.

One of them, Harlem resident Hilton Webb, moved directly into the 30th Street Men’s Shelter after completing his nearly three-decade prison sentence for murder in 2017. Webb secured a room in a Far Rockaway apartment and spent months searching for a place of his own, but says he was unable to find a landlord willing to rent to him because of his criminal history.

Webb, who recently earned his Master’s of Social Work, maintains his innocence but says that shouldn’t matter when looking for an apartment after serving his time.

“I spent over 27 years in prison. Shouldn’t that be enough?” he says. “The contract is supposed to be, if you do a crime you do your time and you’re done, but that is not the reality.”