Some Cities Rethink Barring Ex-Inmates from Public Housing

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For anyone who’s been in prison, finding stable housing is a challenge that is handicapped by tough, “one-strike” rules on public housing aid. From federally funded housing projects to voucher programs, criminal records can be the difference between having shelter and being on the streets. Families who take in formerly incarcerated members – spouses, children, siblings – run the risk of eviction for violating the rules, the Christian Science Monitor reports. Some cities have begun to rethink this rigid approach, encouraged by former President Obama, who sought to extend a “second chance” to ex-offenders. Experts argue that stable housing, along with support services for ex-offenders, including drug treatment and education, can ease their reentry and reduce high rates of recidivism.

“Housing is more than shelter for the night. Housing is really fundamental to people staying out of the criminal justice system,” says Marie Claire Tran-Leung of the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law in Chicago. Public housing executives say they haven’t seen any change of federal guidelines in the Trump administration. “We want HUD [the Department of Housing and Urban Development] to continue to take the lead on this,” says Tran-Leung. “But at the end of the day, the policies that are going to impact people on the ground are going to come locally.” Last year, New Orleans became the largest housing authority to end the automatic rejection of felons and give all applicants a hearing. Housing agencies in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles have run pilot programs on rehousing former prisoners, including family reunifications. In addition to offenders released from state or federal prisons, many more cycle annually through local jails. About 25,000 are released daily, according to a 2016 White House study. They can still be excluded from public housing on account of their arrests or reported drug use, even if they never stood trial.

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