President Obama: Criminal Justice Reform Must Include Investments in Housing

Speaking at Rutgers University in Newark, NJ on November 2, President Barack Obama announced new actions to promote the rehabilitation and reintegration for formerly-incarcerated inmates. The Administration’s criminal justice reform efforts will include new pilot efforts dedicated to housing people coming out of prison.  

President Obama announced a new $8.7 million demonstration program to address homelessness and reduce recidivism rates. According to the White House, “The Pay for Success (PFS) Permanent Supportive Housing Demonstration will test cost-effective ways to help persons cycling between the criminal justice and homeless service systems, while making new Permanent Supportive housing available for the reentry population.”

The President also announced that HUD would provide $1.75 million to aid eligible public housing residents under the age of 25 to expunge or seal their criminal records under the new Juvenile Reentry Assistance Program. The National Bar Association has committed 4,000 hours of pro bono legal services to support the program.

In conjunction with the President’s announcement, HUD released new guidance to Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) and owners of HUD-assisted housing that clarifies the use of arrest records to determine who can live in their properties. According to the guidance, an individual’s arrest record cannot be used as evidence that he or she has committed a crime. The guidance states, “[T]he fact that there has been an arrest for a crime is not a basis for the requisite determination that the relevant individual engaged in criminal activity warranting denial of admission, termination of assistance or eviction.”

The guidance also makes clear that HUD does not require PHAs and owners to adopt or enforce “one strike” policies that deny admission to anyone with a criminal record or that require families to be automatically evicted any time a household member engages in criminal activity in violation of the lease. The guidance urges PHAs and owners to exercise discretion before making such a decision and to consider all relevant circumstances, including the seriousness of the crime and the effect an eviction of an entire household would have on family members not involved in the criminal activity. In decisions about household members with criminal records for drug use, PHAs and property owners are encouraged to consider whether the person is attending or has successfully completed a drug rehabilitation program or has otherwise been rehabilitated successfully.

Additionally, the guidance reminds PHAs and property owners of the due process rights of tenants and applicants applying for housing assistance. Federal law requires that PHAs provide public housing and Section 8 applicants with notification about, and the opportunity to dispute the accuracy and relevance of, any criminal record before the PHA or owner denies admission or assistance. Public housing and Section 8 applicants also have the right to request informal review hearings after their applications have been denied. PHAs and property owners may terminate a person’s assistance only through judicial action, or in the case of voucher holders, through an administrative grievance hearing. PHAs and owners must ensure that their policies and procedures for screening, evicting, or terminating assistance comply with all applicable civil rights laws.

The guidance also encourages PHAs and owners to adopt several policies based on best practices, including allowing applicants to provide mitigating circumstances prior to an admission decision, establishing specific factors related to the criminal activity that will be reviewed, and creating a list of circumstances that will be considered prior to a PHA or owner terminating a lease based on criminal activity.   

Read President Obama’s speech at:

Read HUD’s guidance at: