The United States has a long history of discriminatory arrests, convictions, and incarcerations, the consequences of which can last long after a sentence is completed. For formerly incarcerated people (FIP), it is more difficult to obtain employment opportunities, to vote, to receive government assistance, and to find housing opportunities. Numerous state and federal laws have influenced an unfair system that is responsible for arrest rates being 2.5 times higher for African Americans than for white individuals, resulting in African American communities being denied housing at a higher rate and furthering segregation in our neighborhoods.
A 2015 GNOFHAC investigation revealed that background checks were being used as a means to discriminate against African-Americans. The investigation showed that housing providers were not applying criminal background checks across all races equally. 50% of the housing providers that were tested in New Orleans discriminated against African American mystery shoppers who had criminal backgrounds. Additionally, the investigation found that housing providers were consistently willing to give white testers a second chance, while African American testers were not given that same leniency. Housing providers also quoted more tolerant policies to white testers, such as one housing provider who encouraged a white tester with a misdemeanor to apply for a home but told an African American tester that the misdemeanor would result in a denial.
Even policies that are enforced equally can still have a discriminatory effect. Disparate impact occurs when policies, practices, rules or other systems, which appear to be neutral, result in a disproportionate impact on a protected group. Since people of color, particularly African Americans and Latinos, are more likely to be targeted by the criminal justice system, overly broad criminal background policies will consistently have an unfair impact based on race and national origin. Even though the policy may seem equal, the effect can deny communities of color housing opportunities at an unfair rate, resulting in difficulty obtaining mailing addresses, living in safe environments, and reintegrating with society.
For some, an expungement can provide individuals with opportunities to remove prior arrest records. Justice and Accountability Center of Louisiana (JAC) offers free monthly workshops that provide eligibility screenings for individuals who are trying to obtain expungements with representatives from Orleans Public Defenders, Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, Voice of the Experienced, and pro bono attorneys who are available to answer questions and provide resources. You can find more information at their website: jaclouisiana.org/expungements.
While expungements will not provide the social and institutional change that is needed to eliminate the discriminatory justice system, it may give FIP opportunities to live their lives with more ease. In addition, there are local efforts pushing to change city wide housing practices in regard to criminal background policies. GNOFHAC is proud to support VOTE’s (Voice of the Experienced) work to ban the box on all rental applications in New Orleans so that private landlords and public housing authorities alike cannot discriminate against a prospective tenant based on their criminal record. GNOFHAC enforces the Fair Housing Act for all individuals who have been discriminated against. The Fair Housing Act protects everyone against housing discrimination based on race, national origin, religion, color, disability, sex and having children.
If you or someone that you know has faced housing discrimination of any kind, call us at (504) 596-2100 or file a complaint online at https://lafairhousing.org/enforcement.