Controversies Brew Over Rules Impacting Housing Access

Across the United States, there are more than half a million individuals who go without a home each night. Efforts to combat homelessness have taken many forms with varying degrees of success. Today, one of the largest government-sponsored programs to reduce homelessness is the Supportive Housing Program. Designed to provide both a low-cost place to live and access to social services for re-entering society, the program hands out tax credits to developers who create the necessary living units.

Late in 2020, the Department of Housing and Community Affairs faced fierce criticism from advocates for the homeless for a proposed rule that would rule out applicants with certain criminal records. In the original draft of the proposed rule, any homeless person with a class A misdemeanor or nonviolent felony on their record would be barred from applying to supportive housing.

After the outcry, the Department dropped that requirement but continued with a similar proposal to bar applicants with certain drug-related offenses or violent felonies. 

Although advocates pushed back against these rules as well, they went to the Texas governor for a decision. The revised draft now includes a process for denied applicants to file an appeal. Concerns remain that the system will prove to be an unfair barrier to Black and Latino applicants, who are more likely to have difficulty passing tenant background checks.

In recent years, New York City has faced similar concerns about racial disparities in access to housing. While Texas looks for ways to exclude applicants, some members of the New York City Council make very different plans. 

A bill before the Council with 19 sponsors would institute a ban the box law for NYC landlords. If the law passes, property owners will not be able to ask about a potential tenant's criminal history or use a background check, such as our US OneSEARCH. Introduced in August of 2020, the bill remained in committee through November, its fate unclear.

Opponents quickly raised safety concerns, while advocates pointed out that the abuse of loopholes in anti-discrimination laws perpetuates cycles of homelessness. Even though it is federally illegal to categorically deny applicants based on criminal history, there are many ways to issue a denial by using informal vetting procedures. 

For potential tenants, the application process is fraught with stress and anxiety, and the removal of one hurdle could open the door to a more stable future—but banning the box for landlords does carry potential risks. Debate continues over how to balance the need to provide housing access and the need to keep communities safe with the opposite examples of Texas and New York showcasing the tension between advocates and authorities. 

Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema is Chief Marketing Technologist at EY-VODW.com and has over two decades of experience in digital consulting, online product management, and technology innovation. He is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based backgroundchecks.com with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments.

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