It is estimated that one-third of all Americans have a criminal record (ranging from arrests to incarceration and including misdemeanors and penalties.) At the same time, Pennsylvania is experiencing a statewide reduction in its prison population, with the trend expected to continue, if not accelerate. Safe, stable, and affordable housing is a crucial part of successful re-entry for individuals returning from jail or prison.
Yet many owners/property managers have tenant selection criteria that are either silent on how they treat an applicant’s criminal record or overly broad; too often rental decisions are made in ways that are impermissible under current HUD guidelines, exposing LIHTC owners to potential litigation and liability. In the wake of recent litigation in Virginia and New York it is more important than ever for landlords and property managers to be aware of “best practices”, as well as the potential risks, under the Fair Housing Act, of improper and overly broad screening criteria.
Moderator: Laura J. Schwartz, Esq. Laura is an attorney with Regional Housing Legal Services who works on a broad range of projects for clients involved in community stabilization, including the financing of affordable housing using Low Income Housing Tax Credits. She co-chairs the housing subcommittee of the Philadelphia Reentry Coalition, whose members address barriers faced by returning citizens.
Carolyn Steinhofer is “Outreach and Communications Coordinator” for the Housing Equality Center of Pennsylvania, the oldest fair housing council in the United States, serving the Pennsylvania counties of Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Lehigh, Montgomery, Northampton and Philadelphia. The Center provides education and technical assistance throughout Pennsylvania and also educates the general public about their rights under fair housing laws.
Sara Pratt, Esq. is Counsel at Relman Colfax in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the law firm she served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing Enforcement and Programs and Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary of HUD. While at HUD she led the development of regulations and policy guidance on numerous emerging issues, including the application of the Fair Housing Act to criminal background criteria for housing. As part of her extensive civil rights litigation practice, Ms. Pratt crafted a screening policy that has been hailed as a “best practice” and potential industry standard for landlords.
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