How Should Housing Authorities Approach Criminal Backgrounds in Admission Decisions?

How Should Housing Authorities Approach Criminal Backgrounds in Admission Decisions?
Rebecca J. Walter, Jill Viglione, Marie Skubak Tillyer
Housing Policy Debate
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Mass incarceration, coupled with the fact that most incarcerated people are later released, means that more people are leaving prisons than ever before. Newly released people often do not have the economic resources or social capital to reestablish their life, which is why their obtaining stable housing is critical. In recent years, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) changed its one-strike philosophy (which imposed criminal history restrictions on housing) to give returning citizens a better shot at a second chance, and many public housing authorities (PHAs) are updating their admissions policies accordingly. This new study explores questions important to assisting housing providers as they address HUD’s new guidelines. The authors review the history of one-strike policies and their reforms in the context of the United States having the highest incarceration rate in the world, the history of using criminal backgrounds to make housing decisions, risk for recidivism, and the importance of using research to inform housing decisions. Based on their review, they make several policy suggestions for PHAs.

Key findings

  • A balanced approach is necessary. Admissions policies must aim to eliminate discrimination in housing decisions while maintaining public safety.
  • Instead of taking a one-size-fits-all approach, PHAs should take a more nuanced approach to housing decisions, informed by research on recidivism.
  • Public housing authorities should develop evaluation plans to monitor implementation of new admissions policies as more data to measure effectiveness become available. Evaluation plans should track policy implementation and community impacts.
  • The authors call attention to the high proportion of low-income and subsidized housing that the private market provides and stress that in addition to PHAs, HUD’s new guidelines apply to private providers.