DARE‘s Behind the Walls Committee (BTW) packed the the Providence Housing Authority (PHA) board meeting Thursday evening to “demand transparency in the process of revising admissions and evictions policies to eliminate discrimination towards people with criminal records.” The two dozen community residents and members of DARE (Direct Action for Rights and Equality) who attended the PHA meeting included families of people with criminal records and people who have been denied housing due to a criminal record.
The PHA administers federally-funded public housing for elderly, disabled and low-income residents of Providence. When people apply to PHA there is an automatic criminal background check. All applicants with an arrest record, whether or not there is a criminal conviction, are denied, says BTW. Though an appeals process exists – for which there are no guidelines – such appeals have a one percent success rate.
John Prince, a member of DARE, asked, “When does our sentence end? Because folks go to prison, they do their time, they come back out in society and they are still denied the most basic things they deserve, housing and jobs.”
The federal department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offers guidelines to public housing authorities on how to review applicants with records, counseling them to focus review on certain drug and sex crimes. PHA goes far beyond these recommendations by issuing blanket denials to all applicants with criminal records.
“I just received a letter of denial, once again,” said Ron Doyle, who described himself as an ex-convict. “This process is a constant reminder of being a failure.” Doyle was denied housing when his wife passed away and he became the primary name on the housing application. Doyle is a father of three. His last conviction was in 1991, a quarter of a century ago.
PHA, says BTW, “routinely evicts residents who are charged with crimes, regardless of whether or not the resident is convicted. This wholesale discrimination creates a formidable barrier for individuals with criminal records who are searching for affordable housing.”
Deborah Wray is a public housing tenant and the president of DARE. “Everybody deserves a second chance,” said Wray, “The rules and regulations that they put on residents… some of them are unjust. One example is: If my child does something, I am legally responsible, whether I’m home or not…
“If you’re in the hospital or the doctor’s office or even here, and your child turns around and gets outside and fights, you’re automatically evicted.”
A lack of affordable housing for people with records results in extreme hardship, often leading to homelessness, illicit behavior and/or re-incarceration. These discriminatory policies place a particular burden on families, who must leave public housing if they want to be reunited with loved ones coming out of prison, increasing their housing costs beyond their means to pay.
“We need to be able to have reasonable housing laws that do not lead to discrimination,” said Sophia Wright, a community organizer with DARE. “When such a high rate of the black community is incarcerated or has been incarcerated and then they get excluded from public housing as a result of those records, it means you are de facto excluding black people from public housing.”
PHA has promised that they will update their outdated admissions and evictions policies regarding discriminatory practices. Both BTW and DARE have been making efforts to work with the PHA to make the needed updates. “We need to hear from them,” said Wright, “We need transparency in the policy process. They say they’re changing the policy, but we haven’t heard what the timeline is, they haven’t responded to our questions and our asks to meet with the community and to have an open and transparent process.”