Most ex-convicts are locked out of public housing when released, a vestige of “one strike and you’re out” approaches dating from the 1990s, when housing authorities reeled from rampant crime and mismanagement, says the Wall Street Journal. Housing officials said some families have long allowed ex-offenders to move into public housing illegally, while others see the risk of losing their apartments as too great. Now, as crime rates have declined and many of the most notorious housing projects were torn down, there’s an increased focus on the buildup of prison populations and how the barriers ex-offenders face on release may feed high rates of unemployment, homelessness and recidivism.
Housing advocates increasingly are looking at the connections between homelessness and incarceration. New York corrections data show 22 percent of inmates from New York City paroled last year from state prison listed a homeless shelter as their address. Encouraged by federal housing officials, cities are starting to rethink the restrictions. The New York City and Los Angeles housing authorities are testing programs to allow certain inmates to move in with family in public housing upon release, while Chicago is planning a similar trial. The New Orleans Housing Authority is going further, with a policy that states a criminal background won’t automatically result in rejection. Not everyone favors relaxing the rules. “If you’re going to allow them back into a community that already has a crime problem, you’re asking for trouble,” said Jim Pasco of the Fraternal Order of Police, the largest police union.