Housing Authority of New Orleans Considering Revised Background Check Policies

By Michael Klazema on 3/30/2016

The Housing Authority of New Orleans, an organization long criticized for its so-called unfair treatment of ex-criminal offenders, is in the process of considering a revised background check policies, among other changes. According to a report from The Louisiana Weekly, the proposed changes would apply to all public housing currently operated by the Housing Authority of New Orleans. Ideally, the rule changes would make it easier for families to reunite following conviction and incarceration of one or more members.

Right now, HANO's rules are reportedly unfair to individuals with criminal histories, as well as to their families. Specifically, HANO is currently allowed to revoke a tenant's Section 8 housing voucher if an ex-convict is added to the tenant's lease. Section 8 housing is a type of voucher-based low-income housing that is funded by the Federal Government.

The report in The Louisiana Weekly says that HANO's pending rules would change that policy and allow individuals with criminal backgrounds to live in subsidized housing "under certain circumstances." For families with incarcerated or recently released members, such a change would go a long way toward bringing stability and hope back into their lives. The ex-offenders who are booted from New Orleans' low-income subsidized housing often either don't have the money to afford other housing throughout the city or wouldn't pass landlord-mandated background checks anyway. As a result, criminal offenders from New Orleans' low-income families often end up on the street and backsliding into a life of crime. Before long, those ex-offenders are offenders once more. Not long after, they're back in jail.

Just as "ban the box" legislation is meant in part to curb recidivism rates by making it easier for ex-convicts to find jobs, a change in HANO's rules might help prevent crime in New Orleans' lower-income neighborhoods. Without a place to call home, it's difficult to expect ex-offenders to reintegrate back into society. And without that reintegration, mass incarceration problems just get worse.

Under new policies, HANO would be paying more attention to the length of time since criminal conviction, the nature of the crime at hand, and the number of repeat offenses in making judgments about which ex-offenders should be allowed to stay in subsidized housing. It's unlikely that all individuals with criminal records will pass the Housing Authority's new criteria, but the executive director of HANO did hint that the new rules will be more liberal and forgiving.

Critics of HANO still aren't sold on the new rules being entirely fair. For instance, the head of a nonprofit organization called Stand with Dignity criticized HANO's criminal background check, which looks from criminal convictions from the past seven years. A three-year background check, the nonprofit leaders said, would be enough to show that ex-offenders are putting forth the effort to rebuild their lives. Such a statement may be true, but to protect the other residents living in subsidized housing, the deeper background checks seem like a strong precaution.



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