Partnership for Just Housing Submits Comment on Proposed Rule to Remove Restrictions on Hiring People with Conviction Histories as Fair Housing Testers

The Partnership for Just Housing (PJH) submitted a comment on a HUD Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), “Removing Criminal Conviction Restrictions for Testers in FHIP- and FHAP-Funded Testing Programs,” on January 11. Convened by NLIHC and the Shriver Center on Poverty Law, PJH is a national collaborative of directly impacted leaders and other advocates working to end housing discrimination against people impacted by the criminal-legal system. Together, members of the PJH work to advance economic and racial equity at the intersection of housing and the criminal-legal system.

The NPRM seeks to remove criminal conviction restrictions for fair housing testers in programs funded by the Fair Housing Initiatives Program (FHIP) and Fair Housing Assistance Program (FHAP). The NPRM is the latest in a series of efforts by HUD to remove barriers to its programs for people impacted by the criminal-legal system. These efforts grew out of HUD Secretary Marcia L. Fudge’s 2022 memo, “Eliminating Barriers That May Unnecessarilly Prevent Individuals with Criminal Histories from Participating in HUD Programs” (see Memo, 4/18/22).

FHIP and FHAP provide funding to private non-profits and government agencies working to enforce the federal “Fair Housing Act of 1968” (FHA) and state and local fair housing protections. Among other eligible uses, both programs fund fair housing “testing” activities, in which testers pose as prospective homebuyers or renters, with the goal of gathering information to help determine whether a housing provider is complying with fair housing laws. Current guidance specifies that fair housing testers “must not have prior felony convictions or convictions of any crimes involving fraud or perjury.”

In the comment, PJH members argue that such an overly broad ban is “antiquated and unnecessary,” acting as a “blanket ban regardless of mitigating factors and failing to consider totality of circumstances surrounding a prior conviction.” Moreover, the ban runs counter to HUD’s own guidance and hinders HUD’s ability to identify and mitigate discriminatory practices against people with conviction histories. For example, the ban makes it impossible to investigate when landlords use “conviction histories” as pretext for discrimination against people based on characteristics protected under the FHA, like race. Because of law enforcement’s targeting of marginalized communities, the prohibition disproportionately impacts Black, Latino, and Native people, as well as people with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Read PJH’s full comment here.