In June 2021, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Marcia Fudge wrote a letter to all Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) outlining the Biden Administration’s mission to meet the housing needs of justice- involved individuals (JIIs) and to “reduce barriers to housing among people with criminal records.” In this letter, Secretary Fudge wrote that “HUD is committed to taking a comprehensive approach to addressing the housing needs of [JIIs], and by doing so, increasing public safety within our communities.”
However, existing PHA policies and regulations unduly limit access to housing assistance among JIIs in Massachusetts. These policies have a disparate impact on people of color who, despite making up only 17% of the state population, represent 50% of the incarcerated population. PHA policies restricting housing access to JIIs are harmful, discriminatory, and based on an outdated view of the criminal legal system. They affect not only JIIs, but their families and children: more than 5 million children under the age of 18 reportedly have had a parent in prison or jail nationwide, including 38,000 in Massachusetts alone.
Thought a combination of reforms, the “Far From Home” report envisions a pathway to expand subsidized housing access to JIIs and their families across Massachusetts. PHAs have discretion to set local policy on these issues. PHA leaders should affirmatively reverse discriminatory policies and use their discretion to ensure that the housing needs of JIIs, their families, and low- income tenants are met.
Every person returning from prison deserves a stable home to rebuild their life. We must work together to change PHAs’ outdated criminal record screening policies, and allow JIIs and their families access to this vital form of housing assistance so that they can rebuild connections to their local communities.
To accomplish the goals of the Far From Home initiative, 12 recommendations were created for PHAs, local, state, and federal officials. Justice 4 Housing is actively working with PHAs and legislators to accomplish these recommendations.
We would like to thank Boston Housing Authority for responding to this report and starting the work to update their policies.
This report represents a partnership between Justice 4 Housing (J4H) and the Tenant Advocacy Project (TAP). Beginning in March 2021, these organizations conducted focus groups and interviews, which included the voices of justice- involved individuals (JIIs) and their families. These individuals bravely shared lived experiences, and this report incorporates their recommendations. We’d like to thank all those who participated in this project.