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Fair Housing and Incarceration: support formerly and currently incarcerated women and girls

Posted on 08. Dec, 2017 by

VOTE (Voice of the Experienced) is leading a march and rally Dec. 15 for formerly and currently incarcerated women and girls. While women in the U.S. make up only five percent of the world’s female population, they make up almost 30 percent of the worldwide total of incarcerated women. Louisiana has the highest per capita incarceration rate of any state in the U.S., and it ranks number seven in the world for incarcerating women. In the Greater New Orleans area, the rate of incarcerated women has increased by 700 percent since 1984, with black women incarcerated at twice the rate of white women; and in all of the U.S., women are the fastest growing incarcerated population.

The ability to access decent and affordable housing is essential to successful reentry after incarceration. With almost one-third of the nation’s population having some type of criminal record, it is imperative that housing providers and realtors employ fair criminal background check policies to ensure that individuals with criminal backgrounds have access to housing.

People with criminal backgrounds are not a protected class under the Fair Housing Act, but according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, “criminal history-based restrictions on housing opportunities violate the Act if, without justification, their burden falls more often on renters or other housing market participants of one race or national origin over another.”

Since African-American and Latino populations are arrested and incarcerated at disproportionate rates, overly broad criminal background checks by housing providers will have a disparate impact on people of color.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development released guidance on criminal background checks by housing providers in April 2016. The guidance states that background check policies must:

  1. Take into account the nature and severity of an individual’s conviction,
  2. Consider the amount of time that has passed since the criminal conduct occurred, and
  3. Consider the nature, severity, and recency of criminal conduct.

Housing providers cannot:

  1. Have overly broad criminal background checks or blanket bans on people with criminal backgrounds,
  2. Deny housing solely because of an arrest, or
  3. Deny housing based on a conviction without being able to show that the applicant poses a threat to the property or other tenants.

Criminal background screening policies can also be used to disguise race discrimination. An audit GNOFHAC conducted in 2015 showed that white prospective applicants with criminal backgrounds were treated more leniently than equally qualified African American applicants with a similar criminal background 50 percent of the time.

If you think you may have been discriminated against while looking for housing, call us at (877) 445-2100. Help is free and confidential.

To show your support for formerly and currently incarcerated women and girls, join VOTE at the march in New Orleans Dec. 15, and consider donating to raise money to bail women out for the holidays.

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