People with records, like everyone else, deserve a place to call home.
June 5, 2017
“Where will I sleep tonight?”
Every year, roughly 640,000 people — about the population of Washington, D.C. — leave federal and state prisons. Eleven million are processed through local jails annually. On the day they are released, and indeed for the years to come, the answer these people have to that question above will dramatically affect their ability to successfully rejoin their communities and lead healthy, productive lives.
Research shows that safe, stable, and affordable housing plays a crucial role in successful re-entry. But unfortunately, far too many people with criminal records remain locked out.
While lack of access to affordable housing is a problem of epidemic proportions nationwide, it is particularly severe for the more than 70 million people in this country who have criminal records. Because justice-involved individuals often struggle to secure and maintain employment after exiting the criminal justice system, federally subsidized housing is a crucial lifeline. But, by both federally subsidized housing providers and landlords in the private marketplace, justice-involved individuals are often turned away because of their records. In a 2015 survey of formerly incarcerated people, about 4 out of every 5 respondents said they had experienced such treatment.
What’s worse, because people of color disproportionately bear the brunt of our overly punitive and expansive criminal justice system, admission rejections based on criminal records are often used as proxies for racial discrimination, causing the devastating consequences of housing instability and homelessness to fall ever-more hard on African Americans and Latino/as.
Anyone facing homelessness or housing instability is likely to experience significant physical and financial turmoil, but the stakes are even higher for people with records. Barriers to housing can layer on top of and exacerbate other collateral consequences associated with a criminal record — like barriers to employment — further undermining one’s ability to reenter the community. Moreover, people who are homeless are also more likely to face incarceration, making it more likely that justice-involved people without stable housing will recidivate.
The collateral consequences of a criminal record are not limited to justice-involved individuals. For example, nearly half of all U.S. children have a parent with a record; housing instability can significantly undercut these kids’ ability to graduate high school and enroll in and finish college. These blows to upward mobility do not just harm individuals and their families — in the long run, they ultimately harm us all.
Recognizing that helping justice-involved individuals gain access to housing is key to successful re-entry, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under the Obama Administration took important steps to address barriers to housing for people with criminal records. Despite this recent progress, however, much work remains to be done.
Recently, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) held a public hearing on the collateral consequences associated with criminal records, including those pertaining to housing. In addition to participating and submitting written testimony, the Shriver Center recommended that USCCR issue a report on barriers to housing for justice-involved individuals and study the importance of linking healthcare access to re-entry.
Moreover, we also urge HUD to continue the work that it has started to alleviate families from unnecessary housing barriers that fail to advance public safety. This work includes protecting the fair housing rights of people with criminal records and proactively supporting the reentry-related pilots and policy changes that public housing authorities and other federal subsidized housing providers have found to be so successful.
Involvement with the criminal justice system should not result in a lifetime sentence to homelessness or financial insecurity. Ensuring access to housing is good for justice-involved individuals, their families, their communities, and our entire country. It’s time to unlock this crucial door to opportunity.
Trevor Brown contributed to this blog.