The city of New York is fighting to find solutions to the ongoing homelessness crisis. Almost 50,000 people are said to be occupying New York shelters right now. Besides inflation and abnormally high rental prices, another barrier to housing is criminal records factoring into applications. As the New York Times reports, a piece of legislation seeks to end that practice that has abnormally affected people of color. The Fair Chance For Housing Act would ban landlords and brokers from seeking a person’s criminal records and stop them from denying housing because of prior arrests or convictions.
In New York alone, almost 750,000 residents have a criminal conviction record – 80% of which are Black and Latino. Due to discriminatory practices, New York City ranks as the third-most-segregated city for Black Americans in the US and second-most-segregated for Latinos.
Places like New Jersey, San Francisco, and Cook County in Illinois have hampered the ability of landlords to check and screen tenants based on their criminal records. New York City mayor Eric Adams has stated he would favor the legislation. Property owners and landlord groups successfully stopped a prior attempt to pass similar legislation last year. The same will likely happen with this version of the bill. Vito Signorile, vice president at the Rent Stabilization Association, stated he and 25,000 owners were against the bill because of “safety concerns.”
Under the bill, someone who believes they have been discriminated against because of their criminal history could file a lawsuit against a landlord or a complaint with the New York City Commission on Human Rights. The act does come with a couple of exceptions. It would not apply to one- or two-family homes where the property owner also lives. It also does not bar landlords from checking whether a prospective tenant is a registered sex offender.
The problem is that previously incarcerated people are ten times as likely to be homeless. As the New York Times points out, a Councilman from Manhattan and co-sponsor of the bill Kevin Powers claims New Yorkers speak to him about “how worried they are about homelessness and making housing more accessible. “Right here, we have a tool that can accomplish that,” he said. The Fair Chance For Housing Act will be brought to the New York city council on Thursday for a vote.