Up to this point, most ban the box policies in the U.S. have focused on job applications, either for public/government jobs or for positions with private employers. Following the passage of a new ordinance in Detroit, there could be a growing push to ban the box in another category: housing.
Per a report from the Michigan Chronicle, a Detroit-based newspaper, the Detroit City Council recently voted to approve a new Fair Chance ordinance covering housing. Once the ordinance is in effect, most of the rental housing options available in Detroit will open to individuals with a criminal history: most landlords will no longer be allowed to ask questions about criminal history on their housing applications.
The policy is designed to help the large number of ex-offenders who return to Detroit each month after serving prison time. The Chronicle article puts the number of returning prisoners at 200. Based on the city’s overall recidivism rate, 150 of those returning prisoners—75 percent—will end up committing another crime. One philosophy is that by offering more opportunities for work and housing, communities like Detroit can lower their recidivism rate and help ex-offenders stay on the right path.
Janeé Ayers, a black woman and a council member-at-large with Detroit’s City Council, introduced the ordinance and advocated for its passage. The council ultimately voted unanimously to support Ayers’ proposal. Ayers told the Chronicle that the ordinance would help solve a common problem in which returning prisoners “have nowhere to go” and nowhere to live, even if they can find gainful employment.
Detroit has an existing ban the box policy that applies to some jobs. In 2010, the Detroit City Council voted in favor of an ordinance that banned the box for city jobs. The policy also extended to vendors working with the city on a contract basis. At this time, Detroit does not have a ban the box policy that applies to private employers of any size.
Under the recently-passed Fair Chance Ordinance for housing, landlords with a portfolio of five or more rental units will be required to eliminate inquiries about criminal history from their housing applications. Only once the landlord has determined that the applicant is “qualified to rent under all other phases of the application process” is he or she allowed to request a criminal background check.
Even after conducting a background check, landlords will only be allowed to deny housing applicants based on criminal history if the crimes are “relevant to the safety of other people or property.” Candidates with a violent criminal history, sex offender status, or a history of destructive crimes like arson can be disqualified. Most minor crimes will not be considered appropriate grounds for dismissing a candidate.
Landlords who do decide to disqualify renters based on criminal history must give the applicant in question an opportunity “to provide evidence of rehabilitation.” Prospective tenants who feel like they have been treated in an unfair or discriminatory manner will have the option to file a formal complaint with the Detroit Department of Civil Rights, Inclusion and Opportunity.
At backgroundchecks.com, we have a program to help people whose criminal backgrounds act as a bar to employment, housing, or other aspects of responsible citizenry. This program, called MyClearStart, can help you determine your eligibility for expungement or record sealing. If you have already expunged a criminal record and are having difficulty getting it removed from criminal history databases, our Expungement Clearinghouse program can help.