Duluth Incentive Program Could Help Ex-Offenders Find Places to Live

By Michael Klazema on 8/19/2016

In recent years, criminal justice reform campaigns across the country have pushed for ban the box policies—ordinances or laws that make it easier for people with criminal records to compete for jobs. Ban the box initiatives compel employers not to ask about criminal history on job applications and typically delay background checks in the applicant screening process. As such, applicants with criminal histories are given more opportunities to prove their credentials, qualifications, and character before a hiring manager finds out about their record.

While, according to its supporters, ban the box has made it easier for ex-offenders in many parts of the country to get jobs, that population is still facing challenges. Supporters claim that in Duluth, Minnesota, one of the biggest hurdles for a person with a criminal record is finding a place to live.

Property managers and landlords in Duluth are legally permitted to run background checks on potential tenants. Landlords can use the information from these background checks to deny applications from tenants who they might consider dangerous or risky. As a result, many past criminal offenders are repeatedly turned down when they apply to rent out apartments or other properties.

A faith-based organization in Duluth wants to change this trend. According to a report from the Northland News Center, Churches United in Ministry (or CHUM) is looking to sponsor an initiative that would help ex-offenders find places to live. CHUM is an organization devoted to helping "those who are homeless or living in poverty in Duluth." The organization's goal is to set up an account or a "pool of money" that would give landlords financial security in accepting individuals with criminal records as tenants. If an ex-offender were to skip out on a lease, cause damage to a property, or cause a landlord any other form of financial harm, funds maintained by CHUM would cover the damages.

According to the organization, CHUM is trying to prevent situations in which ex-criminals end up homeless and have to resort to criminal activity to pull themselves up from poverty. They aim to ensure that ex-offenders can find places to live, set down roots, and build their rental history.

CHUM claims that through its initiative, landlords would have new financial protections to make taking on tenants with criminal histories more appealing. The initiative would essentially broaden the prospective tenant pool for property managers, CHUM says, thereby allowing them to keep more of their units filled. Landlords would still have the right to run background checks on tenants, but would be more likely to take on tenants with a criminal history because of the added financial security.


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