Harris, AOC Introduce Bill for Housing Assistance of People with Criminal Records

Senator Kamala Harris and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have announced a new legislation that aims to simplify the process of acquiring a federal housing assistance for those with criminal records, The Hill reported.

The Fair Chance at Housing Act bill is set to ban tenants from eviction after incidents or having guests or other activities.

“Too many people become involved in our criminal justice system and serve their time only to return home to face additional barriers to employment, education, and housing. …By requiring a higher standard of evidence and a more holistic review process, we are taking a significant step toward giving Americans a fair chance to succeed,” Harris said in a statement.

Ocasio-Cortez also said that “denying housing to those that have been formerly incarcerated increases recidivism. Today we are taking a step to make our communities safer.”

In addition to adding restrictions on how individuals are able to be evicted, the bill would increase the level of evidence required to screen public housing assistance applicants or evict current tenants based on criminal activity. 

If an individual is evicted or blocked from getting housing because of criminal activity the bill would also require they are given “adequate written notice” and the ability to appeal the decision. 

The bill is backed by roughly two dozen groups including the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Human Rights Watch and the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Supporters argue that increasing the ability of formerly incarcerated individuals to find stable housing will help reduce recidivism rates.

“This bill will assist the Public Housing Authorities but, perhaps more importantly, it will help people who have been incarcerated rebuild their lives after they have paid their debt to society. It will also go a long way to ensure that families are not punished for the poor or criminal actions of a single family member,” the NAACP’s Hilary O. Shelton said in a statement. 

In addition to making it easier for previously incarcerated individuals to get housing, the bill would restrict when drug and alcohol tests can be used and authorize $10 million in funding for homeless service providers. 

The bill comes as criminal justice reform has also emerged as an issue during the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, with several candidates offering reform proposals.

Harris rolled out legislation earlier this year to boost funding for public defenders, while fellow presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has backed giving inmates the right to vote and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) introduced a bill to build off of last year’s bipartisan criminal justice and sentencing reform effort.

Ocasio-Cortez also previously questioned Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson on the so-called “one strike” and “no fault” rules — under which an individual could be evicted for one instance of criminal activity or because of the actions of guests — during a House Financial Services Committee hearing earlier this year. 

Ocasio-Cortez asked Carson if he would be willing to “support being able to move some of these policies over to a more holistic review?”

“You yourself asked for a case-by-case consideration. Should that case-by-case consideration be codified in federal law instead of having blanket, one-strike or no-fault policies?” she continued. 

Carson appeared to signal he was open to changes, saying that he is “always in favor of more flexibility.”

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