Many people with criminal records in this country understand the difficulty in finding employment, financial resources and housing after they’ve been released from prison. While some politicians have worked to reform the actual criminal justice system, little effort has been dedicated to reforming the resources provided to men and women once they are released.
On July 10, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Harris will introduce the Fair Chance at Housing Act.
As part of the legislation, the lawmakers hope to break down the barriers keeping formerly incarcerated individuals from securing and maintaining affordable housing as an effort to reduce the risk of re-offending.
“Too many people become involved in our criminal justice system and serve their time only to return home to face additional barriers to employment, education, and housing,” said Senator Harris in a statement to BET.
“As our country continues working toward much-needed reform of our criminal justice system, I am proud to work with Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez to ensure formerly incarcerated individuals and their families have access to safe and affordable housing as they transition back into their community. By requiring a higher standard of evidence and a more holistic review process, we are taking a significant step toward giving Americans a fair chance to succeed,” she added.
The comprehensive legislation has several plans to ensure ex-offenders are actually given the tools to succeed when they matriculate into life outside of the system. Data has shown the likelihood of recidivism decreases when ex-offenders avoid homelessness.
“I am proud to join Senator Harris in introducing the Fair Chance at Housing Act. This legislation is one of many steps that need to be taken to repair our broken criminal justice system,” Representative Ocasio-Cortez said in a statement. “The denial of basic necessities to formerly incarcerated people does not make our communities safer. Denying housing to those that have been formerly incarcerated increases recidivism. Today we are taking a step to make our communities safer.”
The legislation will not only help guarantee housing for released convicts, but it will also tackle the systemic racism and disproportionate effects mass incarceration has on Black communities.
Both Harris and Ocasio-Cortez believe access to stable housing is one of the most important first steps to rehabilitation.
In 2016, California Representative Maxine Waters first introduced the Fair Chance at Housing Act to Congress. However, the bill was never signed into law.
Just like the bill proposed by Rep. Waters, the Fair Chance at Housing Act of 2019 would not only ban the “1-strike” policies, which allow tenants to be evicted for a single incident of criminal activity, but it would also ban “no-fault” policies, which allow an entire family to be evicted for criminal activity by a guest of a household member.
Additionally, the bill plans to change the ways in which public housing authorities (PHAs) and owners determine if a tenant can be evicted by requiring a holistic consideration of all mitigating circumstances.
The bill would also prohibit the use of suspicionless drug and alcohol testing by PHAs and deliver additional administrative funding to PHAs who are housing ex-offenders through the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program.
Finally, the Fair Chance at Housing Act would allocate $10 million in bonus funding for homeless service providers through the Continuum of Care program to serve ex-offenders.
A spokesperson for Sen. Harris said they believe this bill will swiftly move through the house due to the changes they made to the 2016 version after speaking with criminal justice reform organizations.
"The biggest change in Sen. Harris’ bill is that, after getting feedback from criminal justice groups, the section on covered criminal conduct is expanded and goes further to explain criminal conduct," spokesperson Meaghan Lynch told BET.
"We are also excited to partner with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on this legislation as she is a member of the House Financial Services Committee, which is the committee that will consider this legislation first. As you mentioned, Rep. Maxine Waters led this legislation in past Congresses and she is also the Chairwoman of the powerful House Financial Services Committee. So we anticipate the Fair Chance at Housing Act to move through the Democrat-controlled Committee and the House without delay!" she added.
So far, the Fair Chance at Housing Act has already gotten the support of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Legal Action Center, National Alliance to End Homelessness, National Housing Law Project and many others.
(Photos from left: Paras Griffin/Getty Images for ESSENCE, Alex Wong/Getty Images)