Next Goal: Ban The Box For Housing, Too

Thomas Breen photoBan the box, not just for job applications, but for housing applications, too.

A criminal justice reform group plans to pitch that idea to the state legislature this coming session as part of recommendations on how to create housing opportunities for Connecticut’s recently incarcerated.

Fernando Muñiz and Rosa Correa came on WNHH Radio’s “Criminal Justice Insider with Babz Rawls-Ivy and Jeff Grant” to talk about that initiative, and about housing policy and criminal justice reform in Connecticut more broadly.

Muñiz and Correa are two of the three co-chairs of the Legislative Housing Re-Entry Working Group, which the General Assembly created in June to study housing options for the recently incarcerated and to recommend an evidence-based housing policy to help people reentering society.

The group has spent the past six months holding meetings with stakeholders throughout the state, and plans to present recommendations to the legislature in Feb. 2019.

“We’re looking at housing options and opportunities for people coming out of incarceration,” Correa said. “We’re looking at housing options not only in apartments, but also in public housing. ... We did this work. When the work comes before the legislature, we might need some people to come out and support any bills that comes out of that.”

Correa is a lifelong Bridgeport resident and community activist who recently retired from Career Resources, Inc., where she focused on workforce development initiatives.

Muñiz is a former deputy commissioner of the state Department of Children and Families (DCF). He’s currently the CEO of the Connecticut-based nonprofit Community Solutions, Inc., which runs eight halfway houses in Connecticut and dozens of other reentry programs in eight other states.

One such policy recommendation that the working group will likely deliver to the legislature come February, Correa said, is a “Ban the Box” proposal that relates to housing, and not just to employment.

As of last year, the state prohibits employers from asking applicants about criminal history at the onset of the job application process. That’s to ensure that employers don’t discriminate against applicants simply because they have spent time in prison.

Correa said the state legislature should pass similar laws that would prohibit landlords from refusing to rent to tenants simply because of their criminal background.

“Why should a person disclose [criminal background] if that person comes across as having the financial” means to rent an apartment? Correa asked. “If you get shut out in the beginning, where do you go?”

“I want to remind homeowners,” Correa continued, “that these individuals have families. They have children. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to bring them back together so that they can begin to relive their lives in a healthy, contributing way in the community, which most want to do anyway?”

Muñiz added that the state needs to take the money it’s saved through the closing of prisons and the reduction of the prison population, and reinvest those funds into residential housing and reentry services for the recently released. Don’t let these savings just roll back into the state’s general fund, he warned, or else the population coming home from prison will have nowhere to live, nowhere to work, and no way to fully reintegrate into a community.

“We’ve been closing prison beds,” he said, “and zero of those dollars have gone into the community-based kinds of supports and services that folks need.” That means more beds at halfway houses, he said, as well as policy changes and community partnerships that make housing available for recently incarcerated. He said he has been happy to see landlords showing up to some of the public meetings that the working group has held.

“We have to think about investments outside of government” too, he said. He said the time when nonprofits could sit back and wait for Requests for Proposal (RFP) for government-funded housing projects to show up at their doors is over.

Instead, nonprofits like Community Solutions, Inc. need to work with private foundations and other private companies to develop their own support programs for the recently incarcerated. He said his company currently works with a construction company in California to hire people living in their halfway houses.

“We’re preparing the road for a better life,” Correa said. “You want your business to thrive. You need to invest in these initiatives.”

“Criminal Justice Insider” is sponsored by The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.

Read previous articles:

 

  • Criminal Justice Crusader Reflects On Mass Incarceration, #MeToo
  • Society Needs A “Second Chance,” Too
  • Imagining A Less Incarcerated World
  • Criminal Justice Reformer Refuses To Give Up
  • Criminal Record Controversy Propels Legislative Candidate
  • ‘If’ Injects Humanity Into Incarceration
  • Carbone Fans The Youth Justice Flame
  • Forman: We’re Expelling Our Own, Too
  • Lawlor Sees Progress On Reform
  • From Mortgage Fraud To Criminal Justice Reform
  • Teen Encounter With Cops Spurred Reform Advocate
  • From Second Chance To No Chance Connecticut?
  • Project Longevity Coordinator Works Off A Debt
  • Ex-CEO Serves Justice Reform “Life Sentence”
  • Ganim Describes Path Back From Prison
  • Transition Time For Teens In Trouble
  • Parole Holds A Key To Reentry Puzzle
  • Organizer Takes “Sawdust-On-Floor” Tack
  • Female Ex-Offenders Band Together
  • German-Inspired Reform Calms Prison
  • Son’s Arrest Helped Shape Porter’s Politics
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    Comments

    posted by: Noteworthy on January 3, 2019  4:28pm

    By all means - just ban asking about anything - that way, everybody can work wherever they want; pedophiles can live near schools and the landlords and employers can just put their companies and properties at risk because they’ll know nothing about anything. Enough already. Just start with proving there’s a problem with a convict getting an apartment.

    posted by: Kevin McCarthy on January 3, 2019  9:16pm

    Noteworthy, based on the article it appears that the advocates are seeking adoption of a provision that would parallel the existing ban the box law. That law (CGS Sec. 31-51i) generally bars employers from asking about an applicant’s criminal record on the initial employment application; it does not bar an employer from asking about the applicant’s record in an interview or subsequent steps in the hiring process. To some extent, the article misstates the existing law. Employers can discriminate against applicants simply because they have spent time in prison. But they have to give an otherwise qualified ex-offender a chance to make his or her case.

    posted by: matt325c on January 3, 2019  10:45pm

    Can we ban the box on the application to purchase firearms?  We shouldn’t discriminate against criminals/felons.

    posted by: wendy1 on January 4, 2019  1:33am

    Ban the box.  We all need housing but there are plenty of bad tenants as well as bad landlords.  I have rented many apts. and I have always tried to please my landlords who gave me a fair deal and decent maintenance.  People who make bad tenants can be rich as well as poor, have records or not.  Each of us is a crapshoot.  Humans can be dangerous, unpredictable, and very piggy.  I’ve cleaned up after many.  Landlording can be hard work and stressful if tenants misbehave in some way.  Tenants and landlords sign contracts with each other which contain some rules that should be followed for the benefit of all parties.  Tenants and landlords should be held to the contracts and have recourse if a problem develops…and that includes the threat of eviction.  I strongly recommend EVICTED by Desmond.
    Currently many of us cant afford renting anymore because of our bad economy (wealth gap), disappearing jobs and lack of any safety net.

    posted by: Kevin McCarthy on January 4, 2019  8:57am

    Matt325c, assuming (charitably) that you are not being sarcastic, there are fundamental differences between gun permitting and renting and employment procedures. Under CGS Sec. 29-36g, the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection has to act on a handgun eligibility permit application within 90 days. If it denies the application, it has to give the applicant its reasons and its decision is subject to appeal. There are no comparable requirements when applying for a rental or a job. Moreover, a misdemeanor conviction is normally not an automatic bar to obtaining a permit. Nor is it grounds for revoking an existing permit (CGS Sec. 29-36i).

    There is a public safety interest in barring people who have committed serious crimes from obtaining guns after they are released. There is no public interest in barring ex-offenders from re-entering society, which entails getting a job and housing. There are specific circumstances when discrimination on the basis of criminal record makes sense. A landlord has good reason not to rent an apartment in a building with children to a convicted pedophile. But banning the box does not bar such discrimination. The landlord could, for example, refuse to rent to anyone on the on-line sex offenders registry.

    posted by: robn on January 4, 2019  12:46pm

    Ridiculous. Conscientious property owners should have a right to ask whatever they want on a rental application.

    posted by: Kevin McCarthy on January 4, 2019  1:03pm

    Robn, such as “are you Jewish” or “are you gay”?

    posted by: robn on January 4, 2019  1:13pm

    OK Kevin you got me.  What I meant is that asking about past behavior is reasonable.

    posted by: Kevin McCarthy on January 4, 2019  1:43pm

    Robn, thanks. Under current law, and presumably this proposal, the question is when rather than whether you can ask such questions. I can think of any number of scenarios where it would be legitimate for a landlord to discriminate against a person with a criminal history. It’s not just pedophilia - if I were a landlord I would not rent to a person with a history of writing bad checks. But landlords/property managers routinely talk with prospective tenants. It would be appropriate to raise this issue then, rather than categorically ruling out anyone who has ever been arrested.

    posted by: westville man on January 4, 2019  2:13pm

    Kevin, I reiterate-  consider running for mayor!

    posted by: Kevin McCarthy on January 4, 2019  3:49pm

    Westville man, thanks. A few years ago, I was approached to run for alder. I told these friends that people who run for office often don’t know what they are getting themselves into. I was a legislative staffer for 30 years - I knew better.

    In all seriousness, I want to commend people who serve in local government, regardless of party. The work is hard, the meetings interminable, and the pay is usually minimal.

    posted by: Wooster Squared on January 4, 2019  4:57pm

    Have the folks promoting this been asleep for the past twenty years?

    If I’m an employer or landlord, I don’t have to ask anyone anything. With their name and address I can easily obtain pretty much any information about them that I want to, either doing the research myself or paying a service a small fee to do it for me.

    All this is going to do is string folks along further in the process before they’re told “No Thanks”.

    There’s an even easier way to filter these folks out if you’re so inclined. Most landlords and employers run a credit check. A multiyear gap in activity is a pretty good sign someone was in jail during that period. Sure, you might filter out a few innocent folks who may not have much revolving credit, but you’ll avoid running the risk of renting the second unit in your duplex to a convicted rapist, or employing a shoplifter in your store.

    posted by: Kevin McCarthy on January 4, 2019  7:04pm

    Picking up on Wooster Squared’s point, even in the ancient, pre-Internet age when I was a tenant, rental application forms asked where you had lived in the past few years. A multi-year gap would raise red flags.

    posted by: THREEFIFTHS on January 5, 2019  11:05pm

    They have something Call Smart Move Tenant Screening by Trans Union. It does Tenant Background Checks

    How SmartMove Works
    Landlord
    invites an applicant to send tenant screening reports through SmartMove.
    Rental applicant
    authorizes screening and passes online identity verification.
    SmartMove
    delivers tenant reports and a recommendation to the landlord… within minutes.

    All that’s left is to pick the right renter for your rental property
    Along with your reports, SmartMove delivers a credit-based recommendation based on the applicant’s ResidentScore.

    We know you base your leasing decision on more than just a credit profile or renter balance sheet. But as a consumer reporting agency, TransUnion leverages its decades of experience to deliver a credit score tailored specifically for the rental industry, helping you better assess an applicant’s risk.

    https://www.mysmartmove.com/

    posted by: 1644 on January 6, 2019  9:40pm

    Kevin:  The general movement is that folks should not be accountable for past behavior.  There is a movement to eliminate criminal records nearly entirely.
    https://www.ctpost.com/local/article/Clergy-legislators-to-campaign-for-Clean-13509865.php
    The Affordable Housing Task Force was in favor of this movement, as well as erasing records of evictions, all because people who have committed crimes or violated their leases have trouble getting housing, and so may be homeless.
    https://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/homeless_rights/
    https://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/room_for_all/