Members of the Behind the Walls Committee, general DARE membership, Providence community members, and allies packed the room at 40 Laurel Hill Avenue early Thursday evening carrying signs and posters, along with hundreds of signed petitions, 64 signed by current Providence Housing Authority (PHA) residents from Manton Heights and Dexter Manor housing developments, 307 from non-resident members of the community, demanding the PHA remove discriminatory policies against people with criminal records from their Annual Plan. Residents and applicants to Providence housing who are affected by discriminatory policies, offer their testimony on how the past policy has affected them and their families, and how the current proposed policy will continue to authorize discrimination by the PHA against people with criminal records.
For the past two years, the Behind the Walls Committee at Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE) has led a campaign to provide fair access to public housing for people with criminal records and their families. Current PHA policy denies most formerly incarcerated people their right to safe and stable housing, as well as preventing them from reuniting with their families and reintegrating into society. This unnecessarily punitive policy destroys Providence communities and runs against federal Fair Housing guidelines. The Behind the Walls (BTW) Committee has attempted to collaborate with the PHA to change discriminatory entrance applications and eviction policies, however we find that their recently proposed policy changes remain problematic and unjust.
AJ [son] was like my right hand man, he was helping me to raise my kids, particularly the younger ones. I relied on him, I trusted him. But at the end I was accused of him living at my house and I didn’t have a way of proving that he didn’t. Once I lost my housing it was as if…I hit the pavement running because I had to like figure out what was going to happen to me and my kids. It was like, where are we going to go? And that’s consumed me since that day, since February 2012 I’ve been consumed with that…”
–Dee Dee, a single mother living with her 2 younger children lost her Section 8 housing in 2012 when the PHA accused her of living with her older son, who had a record.
As it stands, according to the federal funding agency Housing and Urban Development (HUD), denials are only mandatory when 1) an applicant has produced or manufactured methamphetamine on the premises of federally assisted housing 2) an applicant and/or household member is subject to state lifetime or mandatory sex offender registration or 3) has been previously evicted from public housing.
Although the BTW committee appreciates some of the changes made in PHA’s new proposed policy, we recognize that they do not get at the heart of the problem: the division of families as a result of a criminal record. The BTW committee has identified several points of concern where the PHA’s proposed policy diverges from the original fair housing policy that we proposed:
- REDUCE THE 10 YEAR LOOK-BACK PERIOD TO 3 YEARS – We ask that the PHA lift burdensome restrictions that simply operate to exclude more people from public housing. New Orleans Public Housing has demonstrated that a 3 year look-back period for felony convictions is a sufficient record check for public housing applicants.
- ELIMINATE DENIALS AND EVICTIONS BASED ON ARRESTS – The PHA’s new policy continues to deny community members access to public housing based only on arrest records and completely fails to address the practice of evicting entire households based on an arrest. The proposed arrest policy flips the fundamental principle of innocent until proven guilty on its head, treating an individual as a criminal without a conviction. This policy does not align with a country that considers people to be innocent until proven guilty.
- STOP SEPARATING FAMILIES – Instead of creating policy that would help keep families together, the PHA pressures applicant households into excluding family members with criminal records. Keeping people with records away from their loved ones is yet another form of punishment that harms the entire family. The PHA policy must support family reunification, which fosters rehabilitation and strengthens community.
- ELIMINATE CONSIDERATION OF MISDEMEANORS – The PHA’s new policy keeps misdemeanor crimes as a reason for application denial, including nonviolent drug offenses like possession. Crimes that don’t jeopardize the safety of communities shouldn’t keep people from having shelter.
- THE PHA IS NOT A COURT JUDGE – The proposed policy promises to “Create a deferral status for those charged pending adjudication”. This proposed policy change places applicants in limbo by telling applicants that they have to wait to be housed until their case goes through court. This “deferral status” essentially punishes folks prior to being convicted of a crime and has the same impact as an outright denial. Again, this policy does not align with a country that considers people to be innocent until proven guilty.
The Behind the Walls Committee is sending a message to the PHA: Formerly incarcerated people already served their time and the PHA should not continue to punish people with records by removing them from their families, one of the most valuable support systems for people with criminal records.
John Bae, Margaret diZerega, Jacob Kang-Brown, Ryan Shanahan, and Ram Subramanian, November 2016
Angely Mercado and Nomin Ujiyediin, January 18, 2017
“Gonzalez, whose life before his sentence was punctuated by arrests, gang violence and drug addiction, credits the Family Reentry Pilot Program with his success in staying calm and clean after his release. “If I wouldn’t have had this, a place to live, who knows? I might have went off the edge,” he says. His dedication to his mother, now bedridden and requiring daily care, has motivated him to look for jobs so he can continue to take care of her, and can save up money to move out of public housing.”
A national community-driven report led by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Forward Together, and Research Action Design, September 2015
“Despite their often-limited resources, families are the primary resource for housing, employment, and health needs of their formerly incarcerated loved ones, filling the gaps left by diminishing budgets for reentry services. Two-thirds (67 percent) of respondents’ families helped them find housing. Nearly one in five families (18 percent) involved in our survey faced eviction, were denied housing, or did not qualify for public housing once their formerly incarcerated family member returned. Reentry programs, nonprofits, and faith-based organizations combined did not provide housing and other support at the levels that families did.” (Pg 9, Who Pays: The True Cost of Incarceration on Families)
Formerly Incarcerated and Evicted People’s Movement, 2013
“VOTE‘s public housing policy report and legal analysis for the Formerly Incarcerated, Convicted People and Families Movement”