The Prison Policy Initiative released a briefing in February on how local PHAs can reduce barriers for people with criminal records. The authors lay the foundation by citing data on homelessness rates among formerly incarcerated people along demographic lines, noting that rates of homelessness among the formerly incarcerated population are much higher than the rest of the general population.
The briefing then discusses HUD’s policy that gives PHAs broad discretion to screen justice-involved individuals and deny them housing. Even though current HUD policy stipulates that having a criminal record is not a protected status, criminal records alone do not justify an automatic denial without justification (HUD is in the process of updating these policies). The brief also discusses the mandatory denials for certain reasons, as well as permissive prohibitions that allow PHAs to make their own decisions. The authors argue that language in these policies, including the terms “currently,” “reasonable time,” “threaten,” and “peaceful enjoyment,” essentially grants PHAs vast autonomy over denials of public housing assistance.
The authors then delve into how best to analyze a local PHA’s policies. They posit several key determinations to make, including what criteria the PHA examines in prospective tenants, how the PHA defines “current” and “currently,” how long the PHA’s lookback period is, and what evidence the PHA uses to identify prohibited actions and behaviors.
Finally, the authors offer a few recommendations for policy reform. The authors call for expanded investment in affordable housing generally. Additionally, the authors recommend eliminating additional reasons for denial beyond those required by HUD, requiring PHAs to always issue crystal clear explanations as to why they denied an individual housing, and making the appeals process clear and fair. CLPHA and its members are leading efforts to eliminate barriers to housing for justice-involved individuals.