New York Bill To Ban Criminal Background Checks Has Support
New York City’s city council will introduce a bill Thursday that would make it illegal to exclude an applicant from housing due to their criminal record, according to the New York Times. The bill has the support of over 30 of the council’s 51 councilmembers, according to the Times. Mayor Eric Adams has not specifically endorsed this bill, but stated in a housing plan released earlier this year that he supports making it easier for people with criminal histories to rent apartments. Adams’ team told the Times, “No one should be denied housing because they were once engaged with the criminal justice system, plain and simple.”
The bill still allows landlords to check whether prospective tenants are registered sex offenders and it exempts owner-occupied single family buildings. Even if the bill is passed, the onus would be on tenants to bring civil lawsuits against landlords who violate the law – unless the city staffs up its enforcement of housing laws. It’s something the Adams administration has so far not handled well: The city’s task force on housing voucher discrimination was reduced to zero earlier this year, though the administration plans to re-staff.
Widespread housing discrimination against formerly incarcerated people has long lead to what some call the “prison to homelessness pipeline,” where people leaving jail and prison immediately enter the homeless shelter system. Housing discrimination also increases recidivism, resulting in criminalized homelessness and making crimes of survival more likely. One Ohio study found people who were given housing after release were 60% less likely to be rearrested.
If the NYC bill passes, it will join Seattle, San Francisco, New Jersey and Cook County, Illinois, all of which have provisions that ban housing discrimination on the basis of a criminal record.
Louisiana Strengthens Rental Protections For Hurricane Victims
For years, a loophole in Louisiana state law made it easy for landlords to evict tenants who evacuated their homes during a hurricane. Tenants could be evicted without ever seeing housing court if landlords could prove tenants “abandoned” a property – even if the tenant briefly left town to avoid dangerous weather or a damaged home. A new Louisiana law signed by Gov. John Bel Edwards now protects tenants from being evicted under this loophole for 30 days if they leave during a federally-declared disaster, according to WWNO. The law could help people keep their homes and reduce needless injury: The state has seen an increased frequency of hurricanes, and some people who testified in support of the law had feared leaving their apartments during Hurricane Ida for fear it could lead to eviction.
It’s Bad Out There
Prospective homebuyers are more pessimistic about finding a house than they have been since 2011, according to the federal mortgage entity Fannie Mae. Fannie Mae’s Home Purchase Sentiment was 62.8 in July, the lowest it has been since 2011. But that number has veered wildly in just a few years, after reaching an all-time high in 2019. While the nation has a housing shortage, it’s likely that the Federal Reserve’s series of interest rate hikes are also to blame for deteriorating sentiment as it has become harder for the average person to afford a mortgage.
The situation is worse for renters. A survey conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that a majority of Black and Latino households don’t have enough savings to cover a month’s expenses, including rent, according to NPR. The survey found that evictions had returned to pre-pandemic levels and that a racial disparity in eviction remains.
The housing crisis is taking its toll on renters of all ages. In California, most seniors have an income well below the average cost of affordable housing, according to The San Francisco Standard. According to the Standard, which analyzed data from San Francisco’s Department of Aging and Disability services, “many seniors are spending 75% or more of their monthly, fixed income on rent each month, and struggling to pay for other necessities like food and bills.”
In nearby Berkeley, college students are racking up student loan debt to pay for skyrocketing rents, according to The Hechinger Report. The outlet reports that waitlists for campus housing are growing as fewer students can afford off-campus apartments. Privately-run student housing is on average up 6% nationally, according to Real Page, but students forced to look outside student housing face the same steep rent hikes as everyone else - up to 53% in some markets. While many students end up accruing debt or living with family, a UCLA report found 10% of California State University students experience homelessness while attending school.
Bonus Recommended Reads
Vox examines the trend of state and local governments investing in new, government-owned mixed-income housing.
Gotham Gazette looks at the billions of dollars for public housing that were included in the Build Back Better Act but left out of the recently-passed Inflation Reduction Act.
According to Redfin, transplants moving to cities like Philadelphia have 39% more money to spend on housing than locals. The problem is similar in NYC (31%), Atlanta (30%), Dallas (22%) and Portland (18%).
This article is part of Backyard, a newsletter exploring scalable solutions to make housing fairer, more affordable and more environmentally sustainable. Subscribe to our weekly Backyard newsletter.
Roshan Abraham is Next City's housing correspondent and a former Equitable Cities fellow. He is based in Queens. Follow him on Twitter at @roshantone.