Kamala Harris and AOC Team on Fair Chance Housing
Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) have paired to introduce their Fair Chance at Housing Act, legislation to remove barriers to obtaining federal housing assistance for individuals with criminal records and their families. “We have been conditioned to think that basic rights are a luxury and a privilege when they are not,” Ocasio-Cortez said when discussing the bill. The measure aims to reduce recidivism by helping ex-offenders find stable housing and ensuring those currently receiving federal assistance are not unfairly evicted. The lawmakers say the failed "War on Drugs" had profoundly disproportionate effects on communities of color, who have historically been the primary target of harsh anti-drug policies. The consequences of the now-debunked policies ensnared many with a criminal background which can have lifelong implications for a person’s ability to obtain housing, employment, education, and to otherwise rebuild their lives. Access to stable housing, in particular, is one of the most important first steps to rehabilitation, but federal laws continue to pose unnecessary and punitive barriers to federal housing assistance for those with criminal records. “As our country continues working toward much-needed reform of our criminal justice system, I am proud to work with Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez to ensure formerly incarcerated individuals and their families have access to safe and affordable housing as they transition back into their community,” Harris said. “By requiring a higher standard of evidence and a more holistic review process, we are taking a significant step toward giving Americans a fair chance to succeed.” The Fair Chance at Housing Act would ban blanket “1-strike” policies, which allow tenants to be evicted for a single incident of criminal activity, no matter how minor, in favor of a holistic review as well as prohibit “no-fault” policies, which allow an entire family to be evicted for criminal activity by a guest of a household member even without the knowledge of anyone in the household. The bill would also raise the standards of evidence to be used by public housing authorities (PHAs) and owners and require a holistic consideration of all mitigating circumstances when making screening or eviction determinations based on criminal activity. The measure would also provide Public Housing Agencies with additional administrative funding for helping to house ex-offenders through the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program; and authorize $10 million in bonus funding for homeless service providers through the Continuum of Care program to serve ex-offenders. Read what else the measure entails here.