Beat Recidivism, Provide Stable Housing!

Have you heard the news? Los Angeles is taking a controversial step to remove barriers preventing formerly incarcerated people from receiving rental subsidies, according to the LA Times. While not a permanent solution to the housing crisis, LA’s new policy is certainly a step towards a more humane subsidized housing system. We think that this is a great idea, and wish that New York City could do the same. Housing is a human right, whether one has a criminal record or not.  Furthermore, it only makes sense that people with criminal records should have access to stable housing: so often poverty and instability (which go hand in hand with inadequate housing) lead to crime.

Last year, HUD Secretary (and former NYC HPD commissioner) Shaun Donovan wrote a letter to all executive directors of Public Housing Authorities (PHAs), in which he encouraged them to extend housing options to ex-offenders.

Research shows that ex-offenders who do not find stable housing in the community are more likely to recidivate than those who do, yet people returning from their communities from prison often face significant barriers to obtaining housing. […] People who have paid their debt to society deserve the opportunity to become productive citizens and caring parents, to set aside the past and embrace the future. Part of that support means helping ex-offenders gain access to one of the most fundamental building blocks of stable life – a place to live.

In LA, there is a special program designating 510 homeless people for housing vouchers for rental subsidies.  To qualify for that program in the past, applicants needed to have a “clean record” and not be on probation or parole.  This new policy will eliminate those requirements, allowing homeless people to qualify for housing no matter their criminal background.  The LA Times hits the hammer on the nail:

In a county that has roughly 51,000 chronically homeless people — more than any other in the nation — it is only right that some Section 8 vouchers should go to those in acute need. Ex-cons who qualify for the homeless set-aside vouchers are among the most desperate. But they are also supervised and working on changing lives addled by drugs, crime, homelessness, mental illness or some combination of all that. If they have served their sentences and put two years between themselves and a jail cell, does it make sense to deny them assistance? The set-aside program is about identifying those most in need of housing and giving them priority.

We were curious to see how our own city government deals with housing access among ex-convicts, and were not pleased with the findings. As far as we can parse out, there are two unchanging rules that can ban you from receiving Section 8 or a NYCHA apartment: if you are registered on the lifetime sex-offender list or have been arrested for producing meth on public housing grounds.

Beyond that, there are several much looser yet far-reaching rules that impact low-income New Yorkers’ ability to receive housing.

  • When applying for public housing or Section 8, the government runs a background check on each member of your household, as well as every child’s biological parent- even if they don’t live with the child.  These background checks can be used against families who are applying for housing.
  • If you are arrested, you and those you live with are at risk of being evicted or cut from Section 8.
  • If you are convicted of a violation, you cannot live in public housing or receive Section 8 until 2 years after your sentence is completed.  Your family may also be at risk of eviction.

The scariest piece of all this is that one family member getting arrested –not even convicted–endangers an entire family’s eligibility to live in NYCHA or receive Section 8.  To us at UHAB, we find these rules as counter-intuitive and unjust.  Housing provides stability, safety, and the means of building a “productive” life.  Without it, how can a person recently home from prison get back on their feet?  How can that person’s family live safely while the threat of eviction looms?  These laws perpetuate instability and further the cycle of poverty and inequality in New York City.

While these NYC programs are different than the specific one in LA which is changing to include ex-convicts and parolees, we believe that expanding who can live in NYCHA and receive Section 8 is also crucial.  There is a serious lack of affordable housing in NYC, and the more vulnerable populations who can access it, the better.

Below is a chart, courtesy of reentry.net, which outlines more specifically the guidelines for who can be denied public housing and Section 8 based on criminal record.

Type of Conviction

Number of years after serving your sentence(including completion of probation/parole and payment of fine)  that you and your household are not allowed to live in NYCHA Section 8

Conviction that makes you subject to a lifetime registration requirement under a sex offender registration program

Permanent bar, or until you are no longer subject to lifetime sex offense registration

Class A, B, or C Felonies for Violent Behavior, Controlled Substances or Alcohol Related Offenses

6 years, but if you are in prison and cannot be released less than 10 years from the date of eligibility interview, your family is not ineligible on this ground

Class D or E Felonies for Violent Behavior, Controlled Substances or Alcohol Related Offenses

5 years, but if you are in prison and cannot be released less than 10 years from the date of eligibility interview, your family is not ineligible on this ground

Class A Misdemeanors Based on Controlled Substances or Alcohol Related Offenses

4 years, or 5 years if the person has been convicted of 3 or more misdemeanors involving drugs, alcohol, or violent felonies within the past 10 years

Class B or unclassified Misdemeanors Based on Controlled Substances or Alcohol Related Offenses

3 years, or 4 years if the person has been convicted of 3 or more misdemeanors involving drugs, alcohol, or violent felonies within the past 10 years

Violations or DWI Infractions Based on Controlled Substances or Alcohol Related Offenses

2 years, or 3 years if the person has been convicted of 3 or more misdemeanors involving drugs, alcohol, or violent felonies within the past 10 years



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