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New HUD Guidance Urges Housing Authorities to Reform Screening Policies

This past week HUD released new guidance to urge subsidized multifamily homes to consider less-discriminatory alternatives to current marketing, application processing, and waitlist management. In order to comply with Title VI, housing authorities must address unnecessary barriers to housing opportunity that disproportionately exclude individuals based on their race, color, or national origin.

In evaluating criminal records, the guidance specifically states,

"Housing providers must not use arrest records, and should consider the nature, severity, and recency of conviction records, as well as extenuating circumstances(for example, housing providers should not eliminate applicants based on convictions that are for minor offenses, unrelated to safety concerns for residents, or more than three years old)"

This builds off of HUD's 2016 "Guidance on the Application of Fair Chance Housing Standards to the Use of Criminal Records" and is in line with recommendations set forth by advocates and a report by the Shriver Center on Poverty Law, "When Discretion Meets Denial," from 2015.

In other words, housing authorities should adapt their screening policies to:

  • No longer use arrest records

  • Limit the amount of time a conviction is taken into consideration (also known as a lookback period) to no more than 3 years

  • Eliminate convictions for minor offenses and those unrelated to safety concerns for residents

  • Use an individualized approach with each applicant, taking into consideration the nature, severity, and recency of conviction and other circumstances

This follows a trend by housing authorities in the last decade to reassess the exclusionary and harmful policies enacted as part of the 1980s/90s "War on Drugs" agenda --- an agenda that ushered in our current era of mass incarceration.

HUD's recommendations are also informed by a growing research base that finds conviction history does not impact someone's ability to be a good tenant and neighbor. In reality, stable, safe, and affordable housing is a critical platform for people impacted by a conviction to rebuild their lives and be in positive relation with the community.

To learn more about the recommendations to property owners to implement non-discriminatory, inclusive practices:

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