What Housing Challenges Do People Newly Released from Prison Face?

What Housing Challenges Do People Newly Released from Prison Face?
Danya E. Keene, Alana Rosenberg, Penelope Schlesinger, Monica Guo, Kim M. Blankenship
Housing Policy Debate
Publication Date:
Find Full Text

Each year, more than 700,000 people newly released from prison reenter society and face economic hurdles and employment barriers. They also have trouble finding affordable housing—a major factor in determining long-term well-being—when they no longer qualify for temporary postincarceration housing. Subsidized housing thus becomes a key resource. How accessible are subsidies to these people, and how can they obtain the subsidies? Danya Keene and her coauthors explored this question through a longitudinal study of 44 recently released people imprisoned for nonviolent drug offenses. The authors conducted 197 interviews over three years in New Haven, Connecticut (the state with the eighth-highest housing wage in the nation). These interviews shed light on the role access to subsidized housing plays in the lives of people who have been to prison. The authors found that varying rules, cost barriers, high levels of discretion, and general scarcity make accessing subsidized housing difficult for people who have been to prison.

Key findings

  • Finding housing after prison is difficult, and participants were unsure about the how much their criminal histories affected access to subsidies. Respondents’ uncertainty about eligibility rules points to a system of discretion where access to subsidies is decided case by case.
  • To navigate this challenge, participants portrayed themselves as deserving and distinguished themselves from other people who had been to prison, sometimes by citing the rehabilitation they underwent.
  • Respondents found restrictions associated with US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) leases that prevent people who have been to prison from living with friends or family members in subsidized housing opaque and subject to discretion.
  • Only one participant gained access to a HUD subsidy over the three-year study.
  • Although there are extensive barriers for people who have been to prison to obtain subsidized housing, the biggest problem is the overall shortage of subsidized units.