Opening Doors to Housing Initiative

Access to affordable housing is an essential part of ending injustice in our criminal legal system

Millions of people return to their communities from jails and prisons every year, but they face significant obstacles to finding safe, affordable housing. These barriers contribute to a cycle of homelessness and incarceration and make it difficult for formerly incarcerated people to adjust to public life again. Vera is working to open doors for formerly incarcerated people to public and affordable housing, as a person’s conviction history should not be a barrier to having a roof over their head.

Housing discrimination and exclusionary practices make reentry overly burdensome and difficult

Most of the United States’ 3,300 public housing authorities (PHAs) have admissions policies that prevent or make it difficult for formerly incarcerated people to move back home with family or live in public housing. This contributes to high rates of homelessness: people who were formerly incarcerated are 10 times more likely than the general public to be unhoused, and this disparity is wider for Black people and other people of color. Homelessness and housing instability only increase the likelihood of future criminal legal system involvement, as people who are unhoused are more likely to interact with police and are 11 times more likely to be arrested than people with stable housing.

Formerly incarcerated people are 10 times more likely to be unhoused than the general public

Access to stable and affordable housing also substantially increases the likelihood that a person returning home from prison or jail will be able to receive support from their family, find a job, and avoid additional convictions.

Removing barriers to housing for people with conviction histories

Since 2017, Vera has worked with 22 PHAs across 12 states, as well as advocates, homeless services providers, and others to remove barriers to housing for people with conviction histories.

Vera’s work varies by location, but we’ve established a set of policy recommendations for public housing authority admission policies, including:

  • Shortening the timeframe that conviction histories are considered for public housing admission to three years or less, so that people don’t get penalized for being incarcerated many years ago.
  • Screening public housing applicants for a limited number of convictionsand not for arrests.
  • Discontinuing the use of one-strike policies that kick people out of housing after drug use or criminal activity is suspected and instead applying a case-by-case decision-making approach when deciding if a person can continue to live in public housing.
  • Allowing people on parole or probation to live in public housing.

Exclusionary policies focus on types of convictions, but conviction types do not predict subsequent criminal behavior

Alongside advocates, other experts, and policymakers, Vera is committed to removing barriers to housing to ensure that those impacted by our unjust criminal legal system get a real opportunity to reenter their communities and succeed.

John Bae Initiative Director, Opening Doors
Our research

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