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Fair Housing Center Welcomes HUD Guidance on Criminal Backgrounds

Posted on 06. Apr, 2016 by

Today, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) welcomes new guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which makes clear that blanket bans on renting to people with criminal records is a violation of the Fair Housing Act.  Further, the new guidance puts private landlords on notice that they can be sued and face penalties for applying large-scale bans. Not only do such bans unfairly deny people a place to live, GNOFHAC investigations have revealed that overly broad policies that bar criminal backgrounds are often a pretext for racial discrimination.

Louisiana is particularly impacted, with the highest rates of incarceration in the nation. In September, GNOFHAC released an investigation revealing that New Orleans area housing providers treated prospective renters with criminal backgrounds differently based on the applicants’ race.

“We welcome HUD’s guidance to promote fairness in the private housing market.  Overwhelmingly high incarceration rates in Louisiana and the New Orleans area create tremendous barriers for families seeking stable housing,” noted Cashauna Hill, Executive Director of GNOFHAC.  “Further, our investigations have found that criminal background screening policies are often applied unequally to keep people of color out.”

GNOFHAC investigations found that policies that purported to evaluate prospective tenants on a “case by case” basis favored white prospective tenants over African Americans 55% of the time.

Discrimination against African American testers took many forms:

  • Informing African-American testers that they would not be accepted because of their criminal background, but making an exception for white tenants with the same criminal history
  • Waiving criminal background fees for white tenants
  • Waiving the criminal background check altogether for white tenants

HUD’s new guidance notes that the type of disparate treatment that GNOFHAC’s investigation revealed is sufficient to prove unlawful discrimination under the Fair Housing Act.

The new guidance further says that landlords must distinguish between arrests and convictions, and cannot use an arrest to ban applicants.  In the case of convictions, property owners should prove that the exclusion is justified, and weigh factors such as the nature and severity of the crime.

“Today’s announcement is historic for many reasons,” continued Hill.  “It is a continuation of work that advocates have done to promote public safety by increasing housing stability– for example, by adopting common-sense policies that treat individuals fairly, as the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) recently did.  Today’s announcement extends those same benefits to the private market.”

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