Open Letter Urges City Council To Pass Fair Chance For Housing Act From Harlem To Hollis

Seventy-seven organizations and individuals submitted an open letter to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, calling on him and City Council.

They make the call to immediately pass the Fair Chance for Housing Act, Intro 2047-2020, to end housing discrimination against people with conviction records.

In the letter, the advocates wrote, “New York City is in the midst of a homelessness crisis. There are thousands of people stuck in the shelter system who have the means to get housing, but have been denied over and over again because they have convictions in their past.”

Nearly 750,000 New York City residents – almost 11 percent of adults – have a criminal conviction. Housing discrimination is one of the most serious problems faced by individuals with justice system involvement.

A background check that reveals a conviction record is frequently the only deciding factor used by a landlord when denying housing to an individual.

Research shows that a conviction record reduces the probability by over 50 percent that a landlord in NYC will even allow a prospective tenant to view an apartment.

Research shows that a conviction record reduces the probability by over 50 percent that a landlord in NYC will even allow a prospective tenant to view an apartment.

The cycle of homelessness and incarceration is well-known and well-documented. The ability to have a stable life starts with having stable housing — and research shows that access to housing reduces recidivism.

The Fair Chance for Housing Act will increase access to housing for some of the most marginalized New Yorkers by eliminating landlords’ ability to deny housing to people with convictions. The advocates asked, “Criminal background checks have been used for far too long to exclude people from housing. A conviction has an end date, shouldn’t the punishment?”

Additionally, the advocates noted, the passage of the Act will likely reduce costs by removing barriers to housing and keeping people out of the shelter system.

Intro 2047 has explicit support from the City Council and from the de Blasio administration. On March 25, 2021, the New York City Council passed Resolution 1584-2021, the New York City Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative Plan, which memorialized the Council’s support for ending discrimination against people with conviction.

The de Blasio administration testified in support of the Fair Chance for Housing Act on September 15, 2020.

Given the scale of New York City’s homelessness crisis and growing attention to the perpetual punishment faced by people after their involvement with the criminal legal system, the Council must act now to pass the bill.

“Everyone deserves a place to call home. But people with conviction records are denied that opportunity too often. The Fair Chance for Housing Act is a big step toward ending the perpetual punishment of people after involvement in the criminal legal system. We must address the racist harms of mass incarceration and this City’s housing crisis; the Fair Chance for Housing Act would do both.” Alison Wilkey, Director of Public Policy, John Jay College Institute for Justice and Opportunity.

“Fair Chance for Housing is common-sense legislation that will help to end the perpetual consequences people face as a result of having a conviction history. We are greater than our worst mistake. We should not serve life sentences with respect to housing upon our release from incarceration. As a justice-impacted organization, our clients, residents, and staff continue to face housing discrimination on a daily basis. Yet, housing is a human right. Our City Council is responsible for ensuring that all New Yorkers have access to permanent housing. We are asking the Speaker to pass Fair Chance for Housing today.” Kandra Clark, VP of Policy & Strategy, Exodus Transitional Community.

“New York’s homelessness policies have been plagued by false starts, deliberate under-funding of local needs, and heavy-handed policing with far too little investment in the solutions proven to work. For individuals who were previously incarcerated, the path to stable housing is extraordinarily challenging, but the first step is actually helping them to access housing. It is crucial that we stop housing discrimination against people with conviction records and the harmful revolving door that endlessly channels them through jails, prisons, and shelters.” Giselle Routhier, Policy Director, Coalition for the Homeless.

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“For too long, criminal arrests and convictions have been used to prevent Black and brown families in the South Bronx from accessing the safe, quality, and stable housing that everyone deserves. This legislation would be an important step towards recognizing and ending the direct and devastating civil consequences of carceral systems. The criminal legal system’s long-arm reach creates harmful barriers to housing in racist, classist, and unjust ways, and must end here.” Siya Hedge, Policy Counsel, The Bronx Defenders.

“For nearly 90 years, Osborne has worked to ensure that people returning from jail and prison have the right and the opportunity to rebuild their lives, repair their relationships, and thrive. Safe and stable housing is the foundation for successful reentry, and the 7 million New Yorkers with an arrest or ‘conviction history’ must not be excluded from this basic right,” said Osborne Association President and CEO Elizabeth Gaynes. “Our great city has shown what’s possible in employment and education by enacting protections against discriminatory background checks on job and school applications. Let’s protect the right to housing and make criminal background checks for prospective tenants unlawful bypassing Intro 2047-2020, the Fair Chance for Housing bill.”

“New York City is finally emerging from the darkness of the COVID-19 epidemic, but now it needs to shed some light on the rights of all its residents, including those with criminal convictions. Our society can truly thrive again when everyone has found the right to find a place to live and thrive.” Rebecca Engel, Senior Policy Counsel, The Fortune Society.

“Today, New York City landlords and real estate brokers can block people from housing simply because they have a conviction record. But without stable housing, people are unsafe, they experience ongoing and debilitating stress, and often struggle to survive. When a person doesn’t have a place to rest their head at night, it is extremely difficult to get up and go to work or go to school, contribute to their community or support their family. Working with young men who are justice-involved, we see this reality every day. More than 1 in 4 GOSO participants are unhoused or unstably housed and because of their conviction record struggle to find stable housing, putting their employment and education goals at risk. This has only been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic and a ballooning homeless population. Housing is a human right, it provides a necessary foundation to break the cycle of incarceration, and it is time we end the long history of housing discrimination against people with a conviction record. We must pass the Fair Chance For Housing Act. New York City needs this bill.” Chelsea Kraimer, LMSW, Senior Participant Success Manager and Director of Reentry Services, GOSO – Getting Out & Staying Out.

The letter urges the Speaker of the City Council to act quickly and pass Intro 2047-2020 and discrimination in housing, keep families together, and build strong communities.

As a champion of institutional, structural, and personal transformation, the John Jay College Institute for Justice and Opportunity (the Institute) opens doors and eliminates barriers to success for people who have been involved in the criminal legal system.

We create access to higher education and pathways to satisfying careers.

We advocate for the right to housing, employment, healthcare, and other human rights too often denied by people with criminal convictions.

For more information, visit https://justiceandopportunity.org/ and follow us on Twitter @JusticeAndOpp.

An international leader in educating for justice, John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York is a Hispanic Serving Institution and Minority Serving Institution offering a rich liberal arts and professional studies curriculum to 15,000 undergraduate and graduate students from more than 135 nations.

John Jay is home to faculty and research centers at the forefront of advancing criminal and social justice reform. In teaching, scholarship, and research, the College engages the theme of justice and explores fundamental human desires for fairness, equality, and the rule of law.

For more information, visit www.jjay.cuny.edu and follow us on Twitter @JohnJayCollege.

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