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Washington, DC On April 4, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released a new federal policy that aims to eliminate housing discrimination against people with a criminal history, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people with a criminal record. The new policy clarifies that using criminal history to justify a negative housing decision, such as the refusal to rent to or renew a lease for someone, or the refusal to sell to or to give someone a mortgage on a new home, may violate the Fair Housing Act (1968).
“HUD just made it significantly easier for people with criminal records to secure housing. Nearly a third of the adult U.S. population has a criminal record, including millions of LGBTQ people, who we know are disproportionately likely to be involved with the criminal legal system,” said Meghan Maury, Criminal and Economic Justice Project Director, National LGBTQ Task Force. “A lack of stable housing exacerbates challenges for people who may also struggle with getting jobs, physical and mental healthcare, and other supports based on their criminal record. We look forward to seeing how providers change their standards to comply with this clarifying guidance.”
The new guidance from HUD explains how current housing decisions may violate federal housing and civil rights laws. First, if a housing provider intentionally discriminates by treating people who have criminal records differently based on race or ethnicity, they are violating the Fair Housing Act. Second, restrictions based on criminal history may burden members of one race or ethnicity more than another, leading to liability under a “discriminatory effects” theory. The new federal guidance is not binding but it does put providers on notice that continuing to screen applicants for criminal history may subject them to legal liability.
Black and Latino people stand to benefit from the new policy as both groups are policed and incarcerated at greater rates than white people. For example, one in three black men is incarcerated at some point in their life, as are one in six Latino men. In comparison, only one in 17 white men is incarcerated in their lifetime. In part, this is a result of disparities in enforcement of our nation’s drug laws. Though white and black people have similar rates of drug use, black people are 10 times more likely to be sent to jail or prison on drug offenses