On November 2, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a notice providing guidance for public housing authorities and owners of federally-assisted housing on excluding the use of arrest records in housing decisions. More specifically, the notice makes clear that “arrest records may not be the basis for denying admission, terminating assistance, or evicting tenants.” The notice also reminded public housing authorities and owners of federally-assisted housing that HUD does not require the implementation of “one strike” policies that deny admission on the basis of criminal records or require eviction following an offense.
This guidance is a major step in the Obama Administration’s efforts to promote rehabilitation and reintegration of people with criminal backgrounds. It also illustrates substantial progress for securing the well-being of many families and children by addressing inequalities and the cycle of poverty, which affect many families that Family Equality Council works to protect. By removing arrest records from consideration in an application for a basic need like housing and acknowledging that an offense need not reduce eligibility, this guidance works to help the people and families who need it most.
Not only should arrest records not be conflated with criminality (as an arrest results from mere suspicion that the arrested was an offender), but arrest patterns themselves have been consistently shown to be demographically skewed. For example, a 2013 ACLU study found that African-Americans were arrested for marijuana possession at 3.7 times the rate of whites in 2010 despite comparable marijuana usage among both groups. A 2011 report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that 7% of transgender respondents had been arrested or held in a cell “strictly due to the bias of police officers on the basis of gender identity/expression.” For African-American and Latino transgender respondents, this number rose to 41% and 21% respectively. This means that, prior to this guidance, certain groups of people and their families, and especially those of color, were more likely to be denied public housing on the basis of having been arrested. The same goes for convictions, as we’ve seen, for example, that while one in 17 white males can expect to be incarcerated in his lifetime, the figure jumps to one in six Latino males and one in three black men. And while the general population is incarcerated at a rate around 2.7%, the report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that 16% of transgender respondents had been incarcerated, with African-American (47%) and American Indian (30%) respondents at the highest risk of going to jail. By acknowledging that public housing authorities and owners of federally-assisted housing are not required to consider criminal offenses in the admission or retention process, these people and their families are more stable in their homes, which raises the likelihood of successful reintegration while lowering the likelihood of recidivism and the subsequent negative implications for these people and their families.
Housing is a basic need that people and families require in order to create stable, healthy environments. This guidance is a good step forward in removing additional barriers to safe and affordable housing for already marginalized and disadvantaged families. We applaud this guidance as a step toward equality and respect for all people and families.