Every year, masses of people head home from prison, eager to start life on the outside, and end up stranded on the street. Because of draconian drug war–era regulations, many are freed from prison only to get locked out of the basic human right to housing.
But the politics of public housing are starting to tip toward fostering inclusion rather than punishment.
The New Orleans Housing Authority (HANO) board just approved one of the most comprehensive reforms to housing-admission rules for the formerly incarcerated, to help them reintegrate with their home communities. The pending revised rules would establish a review panel to assess each formerly incarcerated person’s application individually, holistically weighing the person’s background, the severity of the conviction, rehabilitation efforts since incarceration, and the person’s current circumstances and family situation. In addition to standardizing the review process and ensuring oversight by a formal body, the reforms would prevent the housing authority from automatically evicting whole families based on one members’ rap sheet.
Along with other “reentry” reforms, such as limiting criminal background checks for employment, expanding public-housing access is critical for people struggling to stabilize and reconnect with family after imprisonment.
On the national level, the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) policy on public-housing admissions could be overhauled through new legislation, the Fair Chance Housing Act, which would direct local housing agencies to review the “totality” of a formerly incarcerated person’s background in admission and eviction reviews. HUD-sponsored housing authorities nationwide would be curtailed from excluding people based solely on, for example, arrests without conviction or long-past juvenile offenses.
The proposed reforms would, however, leave many barriers to housing intact. Some federal crimes would still trigger an absolute ban: a sex-offense conviction resulting in being permanently placed on a sex-offender registry, and manufacturing methamphetamine inside federal housing.