Given what we know about the prison population’s demographics, it seems inevitable that the practice of denying housing to someone who has been charged or convicted with a crime will collide with the Fair Housing Act’s definition of disparate impact. For now, though, arrest records like the one described below will continue to obstruct many people’s access to housing, which will likely result in homelessness for those people, which will then make it more likely that those people will be arrested again and possibly incarcerated. Access to stable housing is a criminal justice issue, as you’ll see in a few of this week’s Fair Housing 5 links.
Last week, the Department of Housing and Urban Development released guidance to all public housing agencies on how to screen tenants’ criminal backgrounds, advising that simply an arrest is not a sufficient reason for denying services to someone. This week, Washington City Paper shares the story of Maurice Alexander, who was arrested and put on probation for simply asserting in public his disagreement with how police officers were treating a group of young Black men. Seven years later, that questionable arrest has prevented Alexander from qualifying for federal housing assistance and, consequently, resulted in him becoming homeless. And while Alexander may not be protected by HUD’s recent guidance (although he may have been), his story is yet one more demonstration that denying housing services to someone if they have been arrested or charged with a crime may have a disparate impact on poor minority populations. [Washington City Paper]
As part of its ongoing initiative to promote the health and well-being of women and girls of color, the White House will be hosting a forum today about how best to address the needs of this population. The forum will address five different areas that need improvement, one of which is housing discrimination. The White House said that HUD’s proposed rule to clarify the protections afforded to victims of housing discrimination is one intervention that can be taken to help stem the flow of girls and women of color into the criminal justice system pipeline. [White House, HUD]
HUD released another proposed rule this week that would prohibit smoking in any public housing facility. The ban on smoking would not only include the actual tenants’ units but also the common areas and leasing office of the property. One of the main motivations for proposing a smoke-free environment focused on the dangers of second-hand smoke. HUD Secretary Julián Castro explained the proposal in a statement, saying, “We have a responsibility to protect public housing residents from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke, especially the elderly and children who suffer from asthma and other respiratory diseases.” [HUD, WaPo]
A federal judge in Nevada has ruled against the Southern Nevada Regional Housing Authority for discriminating against a tenant on the basis of their familial status. After an aunt was denied a time extension to obtain temporary guardianship of her minor niece and thus keep the niece classified as an authorized family member, she was told that her rent would increase due to having an unauthorized family member live with her. However, the court ruled against the housing authority’s decision, saying that the “requirement for temporary guardians to obtain court-ordered guardianship imposes an additional burden on non-nuclear families than on nuclear families.” [Las Vegas Review Journal]
In what could be an important case to watch insofar occupancy limits, Project Sentinel’s Fair Housing Center has filed a discrimination lawsuit on the basis of familiar status against a housing provider that strictly limits two people or less per bedroom. While thetwo-people-per-bedroom guidance has been the general guideline from HUD for the past 14 years or so, HUD has also indicated that this is not a written-in-stone dictum. [Project Sentinel, HUD (2)]
(Photo: “Handcuffs,” by Victor. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Creative Commons.)