BATON ROUGE—This week, housing advocates and people with conviction records secured a long sought after new fair housing and tenant screening policy from the Louisiana Housing Corporation (LHC). The new policy will bring the agency and its grantees into compliance with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) fair housing guidance and ensure that people returning home from incarceration can reunite with family members and find safe, stable places to live.
At the LHC’s July 14th board meeting, three women with conviction records brought the meeting to a halt and received a standing ovation for sharing their stories of being denied homes because of their records. Gabrielle Perry, an infectious disease epidemiologist and executive director of the Thurman Perry Foundation, shared that she was forced to live in places without running water or electricity because “as a formerly incarcerated woman, when I was homeless, I was prey to those who saw my vulnerability and tried to pounce on it with frequent sexual harassment, threats of violence, false employment offers, or dismissal of my humanity and dignity because of one mistake.”
Multiple people with conviction records spoke at previous public comment sessions and shared with LHC staff and board members that a staggering 49% of all adults in Louisiana have a criminal record, and likely an even higher percentage of adults applying for affordable housing through LHC’s programs also have conviction records. LHC’s new policy notes this fact and explains that widespread racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal legal system require housing providers to ensure that their screening policies do not have an unjustified discriminatory effect.
The new policy prohibits housing providers from considering records that did not result in a conviction or were expunged, vacated, or acquired when the applicant was a minor. It also ensures that older convictions do not follow an applicant for years after they have paid their debt to society, and it requires housing providers to weigh the record against evidence of good behavior, participation in social service or counseling programs, job training or employment, or recommendations from community leaders. Multiple groups led by and/or representing people with conviction records contributed to drafting the policy and to the advocacy campaign, including the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center, Operation Restoration, Voice of the Experienced (VOTE), the Justice and Accountability Center of Louisiana (JAC), Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, and the Vera Institute of Justice.
The new policy was incorporated as part of the LHC’s Qualified Allocation Plan (QAP), which sets the standards for how the agency distributes funding for its largest program, the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program. The LHC board unanimously passed the QAP that includes the new tenant screening policy at the July 14th board meeting. The policy goes into effect immediately, and covers the roughly 60,000 existing LIHTC units across the state as well as any new LIHTC units built in the future.
“Today’s win was monumental! This was the result of hard work, community and stakeholders coming together at a time when the need for safe and affordable housing is a matter of life and death. We hope that landlords join us in recognizing that housing is a basic human need no matter someone’s background,” said Dolfinette Martin, the Housing Director at Operation Restoration and one of the formerly incarcerated women who spoke at the meeting.
“It’s impossible to describe the magnitude of what being housing insecure is, especially for women and girls. It’s a period of my life I don’t yet have the words to fully articulate. But it was my honor to use my story to aid this policy passage so that other young women across the state of Louisiana don’t have to endure what I did,” added Gabrielle Perry, MPH, founder and executive director of the Thurman Perry Foundation.
“This is a victory for fair housing and public safety. When we lock people out of opportunity and make it harder to find a place to live or to find a job, we are fueling scarcity and desperation, and we are the ones creating dangerous conditions,” said Cashauna Hill, Executive Director of the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center. “The passage of this policy will help to welcome people home from incarceration and ensure they can succeed and reunite with their families.”