The Housing Alliance co-sponsored a panel on Monday, welcoming the start of the 2020 legislative session with a call to enact a Housing Justice Bill. This bill would prevent categorical denial of housing to people with criminal records.
“Denying housing based on a criminal record is just another way to discriminate against race and class,” Susan Mason, of What’s Next Washington, said during the panel.
In Washington, having a prior criminal history is one of the most pervasive reasons that people are denied rental housing. Although research shows there is no correlation between having a past criminal record and poor tenant behavior, stereotypes and stigmas still inform landlords’ policies to deny applicants for this reason. This has created a significant loophole in fair housing laws which disproportionately impacts Communities of Color, who are more likely to be impacted by every level of the criminal legal system. As a result, widespread landlord policies of blanket exclusion are increasingly being referred to as “the new redlining.”
Panelists shared their personal and professional experiences navigating this form of housing discrimination and discussed why everyone is safer when no one in our community is left without a place to go at night. The panelists included Carolina Landa (Washington Statewide Re-Entry Council), Duaa-Rahemaah Williams (Housing Justice Advocate), Julian Saucier (Yoga Behind Bars), Kim Gunning (Columbia Legal Services), and Susan Mason (What’s Next Washington). The event was moderated by Chris Poulos of the Washington Statewide Re-entry Council.
First Lady Trudi Inslee was one of 40 political stakeholders, decision-makers and legislative staff who attended the event held at the state capitol, with nearly 1000 Facebook users tuning into the live stream.
According to NPR, one in four Americans has a criminal record. Those records can include arrests that never led to convictions, as well as convictions for a range of crimes that may have happened decades ago.
“Five percent (78,958) of Washington children had at least one parent impacted by incarceration from 2016-2017,” said Carolina Landa. “That’s 5% of children whose families are categorically denied housing because of their record.”
Seattle unanimously passed a similar “Fair Chance Housing” ordinance in 2017 addresing some of the collateral consequences of mass incarceration, including racial discrimination and homelessness, according to Columbia Legal Services. The Rental Housing Association and private landlords sued the city over the law, however the Washington Supreme Court clarified the legal standard, rejecting the landlords’ argument that a heightened standard should apply and upholding the ordinance.
The Washington Statewide Re-entry Council is now leading this effort to “ban the box” on rental applications statewide. RAP and the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance support advocacy and organizing around this topic last year, but the bill did not make it. Still – despite a short legislative session – the fight continues in 2020 to end this form of rental discriminiation.
RAP believes that our communities are stronger and safer when everyone has an affordable place to go at night – even if someone has a record. Changing this law might not solve all of homelessness, but homelessness will not be solved so long as there are still people being denied housing because of their record with the court.