Podcast: Fair Chance Housing For Registered Sex Offenders – Is It Actually Fair?

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Fair Chance Housing For Registered Sex Offenders - Is It Actually Fair?

There are at least four cities in the United States that have passed fair chance housing legislation: Portland, Seattle, Oakland, and Richmond. In addition, other cities have a variation of fair chance housing policies: Urbana, Illinois; Madison, Wisconsin; San Francisco, California; Newark, New Jersey and growing numbers of other jurisdictions.

Are these fair chance housing ordinances actually fair for people living on the sex offender registry? In this podcast episode, I take a look at these ordinances and how they affect registrants and their families. With a high number of homeless sex offenders, fair chance housing is important now than ever.

Podcast Transcript

Welcome to the show.

Thanks for joining me on this podcast of The Outspoken Offender. And today I want to talk about a progressive law, an ordinance that is becoming more popular, which is good news. It’s called the Fair Chance Housing Ordinance. And currently this ordinance is. In several cities across the United States.

Some of these cities include mainly in California, Berkeley, California; Oakland, California; Richmond, California; and in Seattle, Washington. And so what is this? What is this legislation? And does it help people on the sex offender registry find housing? As you may know already, if you are on the sex offender registry, trying to find housing, rental, housing, apartments, condos, whatever it may be is a tremendous challenge.

I have been through it and you may have been through it or someone that, you know, It is a huge challenge. Restrictions, a landlord saying, no, you can’t rent here. Property management companies have policies that, you know, we can work with somebody with a felony, but if you have a sex offense or you’re on the registry, then you cannot rent here.

It has gotten out of hand and it forces people to be homeless and also it separates family members. So let’s talk about the fair chance housing and well, first of all, why is it needed? I just mentioned that because of course people are coming out of prison and even years later need a stable environment, they need stable housing. But the fair chance housing ordinance has been passed in some of these cities, because they’re trying to address the racially disproportionate impact when it comes to tenant screening practices. So that’s one of the reasons. And then of course they want to have fair access to housing and this keeps families together.

According to this website, I’m looking at Seattle now. Nearly half of all children in the US have one parent with a criminal record, believe it or not. Fair chance housing ensures that parents who have served their time can remain in their home, which provides for much needed stability. Okay. So let’s look into more detail here of these ordinances and see if they’re fair.

I mean, the title of the ordinance is Fair Chance Housing. How does it affect people on the registry? I’m going to go to Oakland, California first and read their fair chance policy. I’m not going to read the whole thing of course, but we’re going to talk about the use of criminal history in housing decisions. And this is what it says here. 

“Housing providers shall not at any time or by any means whether direct or indirect inquire about an applicant’s criminal history require an applicant to disclose criminal history require an applicant to authorize the release of criminal history. Or if such information is received or based on an adverse action, in whole or in part, on an applicant’s criminal history.”

So what that’s basically saying is they cannot require you, if you’re applying for a rental, to disclose your criminal history. So that is good. This is good so far. Let’s read into it just a little bit more. It continues,

“Shall not be a violation of this ordinance for a housing provider to comply with federal or state laws that require the housing provider to automatically exclude tenants based on certain types of criminal history in eligibility of dangerous sex offenders for admission to public housing and individuals convicted for manufacturing methamphetamine on premises of federally assisted housing.”

So what does that mean? It means that there are some restrictions for people on the registry, they deem dangerous. So, once again we’re seeing, we can help you with certain felonies, but we can’t house you if you are on the sex offender registry or something like that.

So what I’m seeing is there is exclusion still in this fair chance housing act, at least in Oakland, California. Okay. Let’s try another city here. Let’s go to Seattle. Okay. So Seattle says, 

“Unless there’s an exclusion, neither landlords, nor any person may run criminal background checks.”

That’s great news. We need more cities to advocate for this type of ordinance to be placed into their city, or even the state. So it goes on to say, 

“Examples of any person include, but are not limited to property managers, owners, screening companies. Landlords or any person can adopt screening policies that are more generous to perspective occupants and tenants. For instance, a property management company may have a policy of not reviewing sex offender registry.”

So here we go. Let’s get into this a little bit more. 

“Review of registry information for an individual listed on a sex offender, registry is allowed.”

So the landlord, a property manager can review the sex offender registry still, even with this ordinance in place in Seattle. The practice must be written on the application to meet the requirements of fair chance housing.

So that tells me that the landlord has to put it on the application that we’re gonna, you know, we’re going to view the sex offender registry before we give you a decision. So, this is interesting here. This clause states, 

“Before a landlord, any person rejects an applicant against a prospective occupant or tenant based on sex offender, registry information, there must be a legitimate business reason.”

So by denying you as a tenant, the landlord or property owner, apartment complex, they have to have a legitimate business reason and they have to prove it in documents. Okay. So as I go further into this for Seattle’s fair chance housing ordinance, there are some questions. And the first question here is, 

“Can I write or say no sex offenders or something similar when advertising a unit for rent or talking to potential applicants?”

Of course, that question is for landlords. And the answer Seattle says, no, although you may screen applicants through a sex offender registry, which I don’t agree with. I think that should be removed from this, but anyway, it does say it. 

“Although you may screen applicants through a sex offender registry, you may not automatically exclude applicants from criminal histories related to sex offenses.” 

So in, in other words, this will get you possibly into the door to be able to communicate with the landlord and explain your situation. And that’s the good news. And that’s as far as this goes in Seattle, pretty much. So if you know, in the future, if you’re looking for a rental in Seattle and you see an ad on Craigslist or Zillow, and it says, Hey, we can’t take sex, sex offenders here, that is against the law in Seattle. So if you see something like that, let me know, first of all, and let the landlord know they’re doing something illegal. 

One of the major reasons why these ordinances have passed in these cities that I’ve talked about is due to the negative impact to African-Americans – a disproportionate number when it comes to criminal background checks in housing applications.

So I thought to myself, Hmm, that’s interesting. How many African-Americans are on the registry? Because as I just read, the ordinances, there’s still some discrimination. Now I know  people with felony records are not a protected class. I understand that. But still these, these ordinances are saying, Hey, we can rent to you if you have a felony. But, if you’re on the sex offender registry, there’s going to be stipulations and exclusions, which I do not like. So anyway, I did some research and are there a disproportionate number of African-Americans on the registry? Yes. Yes, it is true. Black men are disproportionately represented on sex offender registries.

So this is interesting. These ordinances have been put into place into these cities to fight the disproportionate number of African-Americans being excluded, but then they are putting roadblocks for people on the registry. So this is an argument that someone may take up. May be able to file a lawsuit against a housing provider, a landlord, or a property manager. 

A 2004 Iowa law review study of registries in 17 States found that black people are more than 1.9 times more likely to be on a registry than white people.

Black men are also twice as likely as whites to be arrested for sex offenses and three times more likely to be accused of forcible rape. So I just don’t understand this. They are trying to deal with this impact to African-Americans and they’re ignoring basically the African-Americans on the sex offender registry.

To be a completely fair chance housing ordinance, I would like to see the use of the sex offender registry dropped in the application process for a rental. So the status quo right now is unfair. I’m not disagreeing completely 100% when it comes to these ordinances. I think we’re on the right track. Okay. But changes need to be made. Changes need to be made to drop the fact that landlords can still search the sex offender registry and deny you on that reason alone. 

I’m going to go ahead and leave the links in the podcast description. So you can read all the information I’ve talked about today, and I really appreciate you listening.

Share the podcast, join the podcast. Feel free to do that as well. My name’s The Outspoken Offender, and I hope to talk to you soon. And remember you are not your label.

It’s The Outspoken Offender Podcast.

My hope is to encourage registered citizens, former inmates, and anyone facing stereotypes and social ostracism to move beyond society’s labels. Thanks for listening to the podcast. I’m the outspoken offender. You can find me on YouTube and Twitter. Remember you are not your label.

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