DARE’s Behind the Walls Committee has made enormous strides in winning changes to the Providence Housing Authority’s admissions policies toward the goal of eliminating the discrimination against community members with criminal records. At the PHA’s Board Meeting on March 23rd, the Providence Housing Authority approved an Annual Plan including major changes brought to the PHA’s attention over two years ago by the Behind the Walls Committee.
However, instead of uplifting community voices, coverage immediately following the March 23rd meeting offered a one-sided view of the efforts taken to make those policy changes possible.
In the future, the Behind the Walls Committee encourages the Providence Housing Authority to be more attentive to the voices of the community. This win is bitter-sweet the Behind the Walls Committee; although after ten years of stagnancy and two years of public pressure, the Providence Housing Authority has agreed to some changes to their admissions policy, the new is still not enough to protect some of the most vulnerable members of our community.
One Behind the Walls Committee member said, “I think it’s a step up from where it was. Of course there’s a long road ahead for change. They need to be more considerate to those who give testimonies and give credit to who started the movement.”
Providence Housing Authority Admissions Policy changes:
- Misdemeanors: Instead of a 5-year look back on applicants’ criminal records for all misdemeanor crimes, he PHA will no longer consider misdemeanors in the application process.
- Appeals: Instead of a one-step appeals process that only saw denials reversed 3% of the time, the PHA will institute a 3-step appeals process for new applicants. This includes automatically scheduling an in-person panel before denying an applicant.
- Definition of Drug Use: Instead of considering illegal drug use in the past two years, the PHA will implement a more tolerant definition of “currently engaged in illegal drug use” by reducing the timeline down to 6 months.
- Arrests: Instead of considering arrests, the PHA will not deny applicants based on arrests.
- Look-back Period: Instead of a 10-year look-back period on an applicant’s criminal record, the look-back period was changed to 5 years for applicants with felony records.
- Deferral Status: The PHA has agreed to defer judgement on the applications of those charged with crimes which are awaiting a final judgement or full adjudication in court.
- Removing Household Members: The PHA will “allow” applicant households to remove any members of the household with records as a condition of eligibility, so that at least one part of the family can move into public housing.
Behind the Walls Committee demands not met:
- The PHA did not agree to reduce the look-back period to 3 years, which was proposed by DARE and widely supported in public comments.
- The PHA has reserved the right to scrutinize applicant’s court cases using a standard that is more burdensome than that of the actual court system. The PHA is not a court judge, and are neither qualified nor justified to judge court documents.
- We oppose the new deferral status for applicants with pending court cases. Forcing applicants to wait often means forcing them to remain homeless without the stability and support that they may need to proceed with their rehabilitation process.
- Finally, the PHA decided to “allow” applicants to remove people with records from a family’s application as a condition of being housed. This institutionalizes the practice of breaking up families and removing people with records from one of their most stable sources of support. Although the PHA would like to believe that they are being merciful with this annotation, this will make life more difficult for families with mixed criminal record status. In some households a primary provider is someone who has a criminal record, and this addendum puts the family structure in conflict, destabilizing not only the person who has a record but also the entire family.
The Behind the Walls Committee would like to thank all the individuals and organizations that went out of their way to make possible comprehensive changes to the Providence Housing Authority’s admissions policies. We would like to thank the folks who turned out to tell their stories and those who helped research effective policies and draft recommendations for the Providence Housing Authority. We would like to thank the ACLU for always being willing to offer feedback and the Shriver Center for always encouraging us to stay on course. Finally, we would like to thank the Providence Housing Authority for passing real change.
We hope that future changes sparked by the community will be greeted with a more open and transparent public process, with fewer personal attacks on the community members seeking positive social change.