Murray seeks fair access to housing for those with criminal records

Today Seattle Mayor Ed Murray formed a Fair Chance Housing committee to reduce barriers to housing for people with criminal records. The committee will work to develop proposals that address rental housing discrimination, provide wider access to rental assistance and increase enforcement of Seattle fair housing ordinances.

“Creating an affordable Seattle means we must have equitable access to housing for everyone. Too many of our residents face life-long barriers to housing due to their criminal histories long after they have served their sentences and paid their debt to society,” said Mayor Ed Murray. “Lack of fair access to housing can lead to homelessness and deeper dependence on public services. We must ensure everyone in our community has a fair chance to find a stable home.”

The formation of the committee was a recommendation of Seattle’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) issued in July 2015. The HALA committee pointed to several discriminatory practices, including:

  • Advertisements for rental housing that make people with criminal records ineligible to apply.
  • Screening criteria that include an absolute exclusion of anyone with a criminal record or a broad category of criminal record, such as a felony.
  • Denials based on records that cannot be reported under state law, such as crimes greater than seven years since disposition or release, or juvenile records if the applicant is twenty-one years of age or older.

The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that as many as one-third of adults in the United States have past criminal files. In 2013, a Seattle Office of Civil Rights investigation found that African American and Latino renters were asked about criminal history more frequently than white applicants.

In 2013, the City of Seattle established restrictions on how employers can use conviction and arrest records during the hiring process and in the course of employment.

“I am proud that the Mayor is moving forward with this measure to increase fairness and racial equity in Seattle’s rental housing market,” said Patricia Lally, Director of the Seattle Office for Civil Rights. “This issue impacts everyone, but especially Black, Latino and Native American families, who face disproportionate barriers to stable housing in Seattle.”

“This is about addressing the aftermath of mass incarceration. We hear every day from clients, community groups and advocates that criminal records are a major barrier to housing,” said Merf Ehman of Columbia Legal Services. “A community coalition has come together to work for fair accessible renting for everyone and is committed to unlocking housing for all and ending homelessness.”

While the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently issued guidance to local Housing Authorities about the use of arrest records, state and federal law does not prohibit property managers from running advertisements that exclude people with any type of criminal record from applying for housing, no matter how many years ago an incident occurred.

The Fair Chance Housing committee will provide input to the Office for Civil Rights on a legislative proposal addressing these barriers to housing, while acknowledging and responding to business and safety impacts. The Mayor’s Office and City Attorney’s Office will finalize the legislation prior to sending the proposal to the Seattle City Council for approval.

The members of the Fair Chance Housing committee are:

Billie Abers, Capitol Hill Housing

Afamefuna Ayika, BlackOut WA

Marcel Baugh, Seattle Human Rights Commission

Derrick Belgarde, Chief Seattle Club

Rod Brandon, Seattle Housing Authority

Cameron Carl, Seattle Goodwill

Augustine Cita, Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle

Merf Ehman, Columbia Legal Services

Eric Ellman, Consumer Data Industry Association

Mahnaz Eshetu, Refugee Women’s Alliance

Liz Etta, Tenants Union

Sean Flynn, Rental Housing Association of Washington

Andrew Kashyap, Racial Disparity Project

Mario Paredes, Consejo Counseling and Referral Service

Joe Puckett, Washington Multifamily Housing Association

Pastor Lawrence Willis, United Black Clergy

Clinton Wilson, FareStart

Kira Zylstra, AllHome

The Fair Chance Housing committee also includes a person who is currently experiencing homelessness due to their conviction record.