On June 17, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan sent a letter to public housing agency (PHA) directors regarding efforts to allow ex-offenders to reunite with their families living in subsidized housing.
“Research shows that ex-offenders who do not find stable housing in the community are more likely to recidivate than those who do, yet people returning to their communities from prison often face significant barriers to obtaining housing,” Secretary Donovan said in his letter.
The letter describes what PHAs must do related to bans on occupancy because of criminal behavior, and what standards PHAs must develop to prohibit admission if PHAs determine certain kinds of activity warrant bans.
There are only two explicit bans on occupancy from HUD assisted housing based on criminal activity. PHAs must establish a lifetime ban on admission to the public housing and voucher programs for individuals found to have manufactured or produced methamphetamine on the assisted housing premises, and for sex offenders subject to a lifetime registration requirement under a state sex offender registration program.
PHAs must also establish standards, the letter reminds PHAs, that prohibit admission if the PHA determines that any household member is currently engaged in illegal use of a drug, or the PHA has reasonable cause to believe that a household member’s drug use, alcohol use, or pattern of such use may threaten the health, safety, or right to peaceful enjoyment the premises by other residents.
PHAs must also prohibit admission of an applicant for three years from the date of eviction if a household member has been evicted from federally assisted housing for drug-related criminal activity. Here, the Secretary writes, PHAs have discretion to consider mitigating circumstances, such as participation in drug rehabilitation programs, or that the circumstances that lead to the eviction no longer exist.
“Beyond these restrictions, PHAs have broad discretion to set admission and termination policies for the public housing and housing choice voucher programs,” the Secretary writes.
A 2004 report from Human Rights Watch found that many PHAs were using their discretionary authority to keep out numerous people. “Our research indicates that, in practice, these discretionary categories are used to exclude a wide swath of people with criminal records without any reasonable basis to believe they may actually pose a risk,” the 2004 report said.
In its June 23 testimony on a draft Section 8 Savings Act bill, NLIHC testified in support of including language from previous versions of the bill that would help communities respond to re-entry issues (see related article on the hearing in this issue of Memo).
NLIHC’s written testimony urged adoption of language that would limit denials of assistance for criminal activity to “violent and drug-related activity or a pattern of other criminal activity during a reasonable period before the admission date and where there is credible and objective evidence.”
View Secretary Donovan’s June 17 letter at http://www.nlihc.org/doc/Donovan-PHA-ExOffenders-Letter.pdf
View the 2004 report from Human Rights Watch at http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2004/11/17/no-second-chance