Expanding Access to Housing to Ensure Opportunity

Opening Doors and Access to Neighborhoods Helps Individuals with Criminal Backgrounds

New Jersey faces an affordable housing crisis that impacts a variety of populations including those experiencing homelessness with criminal backgrounds.

Ensuring housing opportunities for all New Jersey residents includes not only increasing the supply of affordable housing in the state but also making changes to ensure access to that housing for people that need it the most. As we use the limited resources that are available to create affordable housing, we need to ensure that it does put up barriers to potential renters with criminal backgrounds.

This blog post continues with the theme of the critical importance of providing housing and safety for and stability to individuals with criminal backgrounds who are at risk of homelessness or who are experiencing homelessness.

As we work to create new affordable housing and fund new housing vouchers, it is essential that this new housing opens up opportunity to all individuals at risk of or experiencing homelessness. Expanding access decreases both recidivism and ends the continuing cycle of homelessness. Removing criminal background checks as a requirement for tenancy is an important step in striving for equity.

If landlords in New Jersey are allowed to continue to conduct criminal background checks, the population experiencing homelessness with criminal background will be locked out of housing opportunities. Or where individuals with criminal backgrounds are able to find housing for themselves and their family, they may be limited to affordable housing options in less desirable neighborhoods without opportunity. Landlords, including housing providers, can make changes to expand access to affordable housing.

In working with landlords and housing providers to expand access to housing, it is helpful to consider how we can learn from individuals with criminal background about their housing experiences and their recommendations for changes in both policy and process. We can learn a lot by asking them specifically about what barriers they faced? And what would give them expanded access to opportunity?

Individuals recently released from jails and prison need to be part of communities with access to jobs that pay living wages, educational and training opportunities for themselves and their families. Transportation and formal and information support systems will support their success.

Reducing or eliminating criminal background checks in the housing lease up process expands access for those most in need. Just as importantly, it literally “opens the door” to options in neighborhoods of opportunity for people who have traditionally been locked out of these neighborhoods.  NJCounts 2019 provides to us stark data around the racial disparity in New Jersey’s homeless population.

Individuals with criminal backgrounds would benefit from the Housing First model. They could be given housing first upon the release from prison and then services that literally wrap around them and help them rebuild their lives.

Local, county and state governments can make it illegal for landlords to conduct criminal background checks, create more affordable housing that does not screen for criminal background in opportunity neighborhoods and provide more support services and Housing First in neighborhoods with opportunity will open up housing opportunity.

In its “Win-Win: Equipping Housing Providers to Open Doors to Housing for People with Criminal Records” report, the Heartland Alliance report provides valuable information about how to work to Open Doors.