Those with criminal backgrounds often face enormous hurdles finding housing after coming home from incarceration. Sometimes, the challenges people face finding stable, affordable housing may contribute to recidivism. Though it’s sometimes legal for a landlord to turn down an applicant because of a specific criminal conviction, general bans on renting to formerly incarcerated people (FIPs) violate the Fair Housing Act.
The Fair Housing Act protects against housing discrimination based on seven factors (race, national origin, religion, color, disability, sex and having children). It can also apply in broader ways in certain situations, such as when a housing policy consistently has an unfair impact against people in one of the protected categories. One such housing policy is banning people with criminal backgrounds. Because people of color, particularly African Americans and Latinos, are over-incarcerated and more likely to be targeted by the criminal justice system, a policy that bans anyone with a background will consistently have an unfair impact based on race and national origin, and will therefore be illegal.
How do you know if you’ve experienced illegal housing discrimination because you have a background? If a landlord won’t rent to you because of an arrest record, even though you’ve never been convicted, they are breaking the law. Similarly, if a landlord fails to consider the type of offense or amount of time since the offense, or other relevant factors such as past substance abuse or untreated mental illness, they may also be breaking the law. If you suspect that your background is being weighed more heavily because of your race, that might also be a red flag.
GNOFHAC’s mystery shopper investigations have found that often white applicants are treated more leniently than black applicants who have the same criminal record. We are well aware that these forms of discrimination leave FIPs with nowhere to go upon coming home, so GNOFHAC is partnering with VOTE (Voice of the Experienced) to work toward banning the box on housing applications in Orleans Parish. We’ve also been travelling around the state of Louisiana to re-entry and pre-release classes to inform those coming home of what to look out for during their housing search.
If you or a loved one has faced housing discrimination of any kind, call us at (504) 596-2100 or file a complaint online at http://www.gnofairhousing.org/file-a-complaint/.