New Orleans Policy for Ex-Convicts and Housing [%new%]
Date- 14th August 2014
News Credit- Sakhi Shah
In the U.S.A., many ex-convicts find it very difficult to find places to live after being released from prison. Even when this housing is subsidized, landlords are unwilling to allow them to stay. There are often restrictions on where the prisoner is allowed to stay (based on distance from city of conviction) and homelessness increases the chances of the reoccurrence of crime.
Though the United States provides housing in the form of housing projects or rent-subsidy vouchers, local public-housing authorities are empowered to create their own guidelines for admission, provided they adhere to the Fair Housing Act, 1968. For most local housing authorities, these guidelines banned formerly incarcerated people from public housing. In some instances, just a record of arrest, even without charges, is enough to have an application for housing denied. The benefits from subsidy vouchers are usually also denied to people with criminal records.
However, the new scheme that has been put forth by the New Orleans government (The Housing Authority of New Orleans has passed it) stating that a criminal record will no longer trigger an automatic rejection for public housing.
The policy, if implemented, is potentially very beneficial. Convicts being barred from housing can be problematic not just for them but for their entire families, who often face massive issues with crime themselves. Lack of housing also increases the shortages of space in jails, because many ex-convicts are forced back into crime because of their lack of housing. Further, since the housing often has a ‘one strike’ policy, people may become homeless because of relatively minor crimes and be unable to integrate into society.
However, the plan is currently not being implemented, putting many ex-convicts in a vulnerable position. Unlike other protected groups, like racial minorities, who cannot be refused housing, the same does not apply for ex-convicts. There is also the concern that if convicts are put back into communities with an existing crime problem, this will lead to a concern for the communities themselves. However, lessons may be taken from New York, where convicts are slowly being reintroduced into public housing after careful monitoring and the agreement to follow up on a regular basis.
In order to prevent crime, it is necessary that rehabilitation of convicts occurs, including providing them with housing. But it must be accompanied by a careful screening process to ensure that crime does not increase in the areas where they are allowed to stay.