Kamala Harris Teams Up with AOC to Improve Housing Access to the Formerly Incarcerated

Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) joined forces to introduce legislation that aims to protect formerly incarcerated people seeking federal housing assistance.

“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,” Harris said in a statement. “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.”

The Fair Chance at Housing Act of 2019 would reform eviction and screening policies that target formerly incarcerated people.

These extremely strict policies were put in place by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in the 1990s as part of the War on Drugs.

The legislation would roll back the 1996 “one-strike” policy that threatens tenants with eviction for minor crimes. It also aims to ban the “no-fault policies” that allow landlords to terminate the tenancy of a family due to the criminal activity of a guest even without the knowledge of anyone in the family.

Ocasio-Cortez asked HUD Secretary Ben Carson if he supported reforming these policies during a House Financial Services Committee in May and he appeared supportive.

“This legislation is one of many steps that need to be taken to repair our broken criminal justice system,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a statement. “The denial of basic necessities to formerly incarcerated people does not make our communities safer. Denying housing to those that have been formerly incarcerated increases recidivism. Today we are taking a step to make our communities safer.”

The bill would also make an additional $100 million in bonus funding available for homeless services provided through the Continuum of Care program, CNN reported.

Safe and affordable housing effects anti-recidivism among formerly incarcerated people, according to a 2014 Center for American Progress report. Nearly one-third of individuals released from incarceration expect to go to homeless shelters after being released.

The report also found that public housing and private housing are out of reach for many formerly incarcerated people. Around four-in-five landlords use background checks to screen out prospective tenants with criminal records.

The Fair Chance at Housing Act hopes to “reduce recidivism by helping ex-offenders find stable housing and ensuring those currently receiving federal assistance are not unfairly evicted.” The Democratic lawmakers asserted in their statement that the policies that emerged from the War on Drugs have had “profoundly disproportionate effects on minorities.”

“A criminal background can have lifelong implications for a person’s ability to obtain housing, employment, education, and to otherwise rebuild their lives,” the statement said.

“Access to stable housing in particular is one of the most important first steps to rehabilitation, but federal laws continue to post unnecessary and punitive barriers to federal housing assistance for those with criminal records.”

The bill has received the support of several organizations, including the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, National Urban League, National Low Income Housing Coalition, Public Justice Center, and more than a dozen others.

“Every American deserves to live in safe, decent, and affordable housing on fair terms,” Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, said in a statement. “Many of our most vulnerable Americans live in public housing — seniors, children, persons with disabilities, and those living in poverty. These folks live under the looming risk of eviction because of harsh and arbitrary policies that penalize a family because someone in a household has been accused of a minor crime.”

He added: “The Fair Chance at Housing Act addresses this unfairness by reducing barriers to federal housing assistance for individuals who are trying to rebuild their lives. This bill is long overdue.”

The bill was introduced in the Senate and House of Representatives on July 10. It comes as Harris, who is running for the Democratic presidential election, enjoys a rise in polling thanks to her performance at the first Democratic debate. The RealClearPolitics national poll averages places Harris in third place, behind former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.