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Research review on housing ex-offenders provides evidence, examples for housing providers to consider in their applicant screening

While it can be difficult for ex-offenders and individuals with criminal records to find housing, these individuals and communities at large benefit significantly when ex-offenders have access to affordable housing. Residential instability and frequent moves have been linked to recidivism. In their Housing Policy Debate paper, “One Strike to Second Chances: Using Criminal Backgrounds in Admission Decisions for Assisted Housing,” Rebecca J. Walter, Jill Viglion and Marie Skuback Tillyer review existing research on recidivism with the goal of helping housing providers as they make admission decisions. Their review of available research indicates that criminal history does not predict housing retention success. It also provides support for specific ways housing providers can refine their admission policies by considering age of applicant, age of criminal record and family support among other factors when reviewing an ex-offender’s application for housing.

Some key findings from this research should be helpful for housing providers. The authors’ review found:

  • No difference in an applicant’s risk of committing a crime when comparing an applicant who has never been arrested to one whose criminal history is more than seven years old.
  • The risk of committing an offense declined with age, though drug- and alcohol-related crimes do not decline as sharply with age.
  • A short lookback period of one or two years probably does not provide enough time to determine the applicant’s post-jail behavior.
  • Family support, employment, references and commitment to reform also reduce the risk of recidivism.

These findings provide evidence that mitigating factors like age, lookback periods and family support do change an ex-offender’s odds of housing retention, and property owners should consider them when reviewing an ex-offender’s application for housing. Furthermore, the paper discusses the importance of evaluation plans to monitor admission policies and crime trends at properties after changes to admission policies are implemented. This evaluation and data analysis can help show the impact of a changed policy.

While addressing the housing needs of ex-offenders is incredibly challenging, recidivism and correctional costs decrease through the use of housing assistance programs (Hamilton, Kigerl, & Hays, 2015). Ensuring ex-offenders can live in safe neighborhoods also means they are less likely to reoffend, based on a 2006 study referenced in the report.

Some housing providers are already rising to meet this need. The Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) has revised its criminal background screening policy. It has a two-step process for assessing an applicant’s criminal history, and if the process does not prompt further review, the applicant is considered eligible. If further review is required, the applicant can provide mitigating documentation and attend a three-person panel to make their case. HANO has encountered a significant challenge in getting private market landlords and for-profit and nonprofit partners to adopt similar policies. The San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA) is also considering how to address the needs of ex-offenders by providing public housing and services to 50 probationers through its Restorative Housing Pilot Project. SAHA is collaborating with the Bexar County Community Supervision and Corrections Department in this effort.

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