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 (Providence Housing Authority) 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.
“I’m in an emergency with my kids. I’m a father, a single parent, and I don’t get help from anybody. My wife had made it to the top of the list for Public Housing when she died of cancer. Four months later, the housing authority told me I didn’t qualify for housing because of my record. Now me and my kids are homeless. I’m this close- I’m about to give up.”
–Ronald, denied housing in 2013, most recent felony charge was in 1991
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 and shouldn’t keep people from having shelter.
- 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 PHA will host a public hearing on March 16th, so that community members can provide feedback and respond to the PHA’s proposed plan. We ask that you attend the Public Hearing, to demand an end to discrimination in Providence Public Housing! We are also asking for the public to show their support of our fair housing policy by signing the online petition. Together we will demand that the PHA adopt our policy changes in order to create a just public housing policy, that treats access to housing as the human right that it ought to be. Formerly incarcerated people already served their time. Now, we must band together to fill houses, and not prisons!
PHA’s Public Hearing:
March 16, 2017 from 6pm – 7pm
40 Laurel Hill Avenue, Providence, RI