Criminal Screening in HUD-Assisted and Public Housing Communities
This issue of Fair Housing Coach focuses on conventional housing communities, but federal law imposes specific requirements with respect to screening and admissions based on criminal history in public and HUD-assisted housing communities. HUD Chief Shaun Donovan recently addressed those requirements—and the need to balance the needs of ex-offenders to return to their families in stable housing while ensuring the safety of all residents.
In separate letters to public housing authorities and the owners of HUD-assisted housing, Donovan noted the scope of the problem: In the United States each year, more than a half-million people are released from prison, and an additional 7 million are released from jails. Studies show that most intend to return to their families, yet they often face significant barriers in obtaining housing. And, he noted, ex-offenders who don’t find stable housing in the community are more likely to return to criminal activity.
Donovan noted that the law and HUD regulations generally require that resident selection plans include screening criteria for drug-related or criminal activity. The rules impose permanent bans that exclude: (1) sex offenders subject to a lifetime registration requirement under state sex offender registration programs; and (2) individuals convicted of manufacturing methamphetamine on federally assisted housing property.
Owners must also establish standards that bar admission if any household member is currently engaged in the illegal use of drugs or has reasonable cause to believe that a household member’s illegal use of drugs or alcohol may threaten the health, safety, or right to peaceful enjoyment of the premises by other residents. In addition, owners must also prohibit the admission of an applicant for three years from the date of eviction if a household member has been evicted from federally assisted housing for drug-related criminal activity, although the housing provider has discretion to admit households under certain circumstances.
Beyond those restrictions, Donovan pointed out that HUD-assisted community owners and public housing authorities have broad discretion to set admissions policies. When screening family behavior and suitability for tenancy, Donovan urged consideration of all relevant information, including factors that indicate a reasonable probability of favorable future conduct, such as evidence of rehabilitation and the family’s participation in counseling or other social services.
Donovan stressed the Obama administration’s belief in second chances—that people who have paid their debt to society deserve the opportunity to become productive citizens and caring parents, to set the past aside and embrace the future. Part of that support means helping ex-offenders gain access to one of the most fundamental building blocks of a stable life—a place to live.
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