Lawyers’ Committee Also Applauds New Action Taken by HUD to Eliminate Barriers to Housing Opportunities Faced by People with Criminal Histories
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee) launched a national investigation to address barriers to housing for individuals with criminal records. The first phase of the inquiry identifies 13 private landlords that impose “blanket ban” policies which prohibit renting to anyone with a criminal history. These blanket bans create significant barriers to housing opportunities for people seeking housing, and may have a disproportionate impact on African-Americans and other minority groups. Providing additional support for the Lawyers’ Committee investigation was the issuance of new guidance today by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) which cautioned housing providers that blanket bans may be racially discriminatory. In its new guidance, “Application of Fair Housing Act Standards to the Use of Criminal Records by Providers of Housing and Real Estate-Related Transactions,” HUD clarified that criminal background screening policies that rely upon arrest records and/or do not consider the nature, severity, and recency of criminal conduct may violate the Fair Housing Act.
“To address the impact of mass incarceration, we must ensure that people leaving jails and prisons are provided access to housing opportunity,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Without access to housing opportunities, people with criminal records are placed on a path to failure and unable to take the steps necessary to successfully reintegrate into their communities. This is especially true for African-Americans and other minorities who are overrepresented in the criminal justice system. As we continue our work, we applaud Secretary Castro of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for taking new action that will help eliminate restrictive and discriminatory criminal background screening practices faced by minority communities across our country.”
The Lawyers’ Committee’s investigation into the use of criminal background screening practices by private landlords revealed that there is a widespread practice of imposing bans on persons with criminal records regardless of the nature of the offense or the time that had elapsed since the offense occurred. Rejecting applicants simply because they have had contact with the criminal justice system has a disproportionate impact on African-Americans and Latinos, who are more likely than their white counterparts to be arrested and incarcerated..
The Lawyers’ Committee sent inquiries to 13 private housing providers across a dozen states, including Park Avenue Apartments and Westpark Meadows Apartments in Arkansas; Summerlin Oaks Apartments and Lipona Place Apartments in Florida; Fairfield Residential in Georgia; Caliber Property Management in Iowa; Castille Properties in Louisiana; Hidden Oaks Apartments in Mississippi; Ashland Manor Apartments in Missouri; Delshire Apartments in Ohio; Management & Marketing Concepts in Tennessee; Plazawood Apartments in Texas; North 38 Apartments in Virginia; and Conina Square Apartments in Washington. The Lawyers’ Committee believes that the screening policies implemented by these landlords are emblematic of the more widespread practice of barring applicants with criminal histories from renting apartments and houses, including people who have only committed minor offenses.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits making rental units unavailable because of race, color, national origin and several other protected classes. This includes an obligation to avoid implementing facially neutral housing practices that have a disparate impact on the basis of race or color unless they are necessary to achieve a legitimate business purpose that cannot be satisfied through a less discriminatory alternative practice.
“A blanket ban on renting to persons with a criminal history has a significant disparate impact on African-Americans and Latinos” said Joe Rich, co-director of the Fair Housing and Community Development Project at the Lawyers’ Committee. “Instead of applying a blanket ban, landlords can be protected through the use of individual assessments that consider factors directly relevant to appropriate qualifications for tenancy.”
Individuals who believe that they have been denied or discouraged from pursuing housing opportunities because of their criminal background can contact [email protected].