New York City Council Majority Leader Keith Powers on Thursday introduced the Fair Chance for Housing Act, which would prohibit landlords from discriminating against potential tenants based on their criminal record.
“New Yorkers who have paid their debts still face severe discrimination, regardless of the severity of the offense or for how long,” Powers wrote in a statement. “The Housing Equity Act will finally give these people a place to sleep for a night and the opportunity to rebuild their lives.”
Two formerly incarcerated New Yorkers, Hilton Webb and Kandra Clark, sat down with Errol Louis on “Inside City Hall” Thursday to discuss the significance of the bill.
Webb, a social worker and member of the Fair Chance for Housing Coalition, said he had been candid with the landlords about his story and they would tell him they weren’t interested as he was previously incarcerated.
“The reality is that the chances of someone who has served time in prison, who has been released, are also looking for a stable home,” he said.
Under current law, landlords, brokers and other housing providers have the right to deny a person housing based on a criminal history.
Clark — the vice president of policy and strategy for an organization that works with people affected by the justice system, Exodus Transitional Community, Inc. — said the law would allow landlords to vet potential tents based on financial history, references and interviews; not through criminal records, which she says “come from their past.”
“My crime happened over 30 years ago,” Webb said. “Exactly how much longer do I have to pay for this? And that’s what’s unfair.”
In 2019, nearly 750,000 New Yorkers had conviction histories, according to a press release sent by Powers and other council members.
According to Webb, approximately 36 million children in the United States have at least one parent with a criminal record. “So you are evicting the children from the accommodation. You prevent wives, husbands, daughters and sons from housing,” he continued.
Clark said more realtors, developers, brokers, landlords and service organizations are on their side than opposed.
“I think that’s something that was a bit lacking in previous years,” she said.
The Fair Chance for Housing Act has strong support in city council with 34 co-sponsors, the city comptroller, four borough presidents, public advocate and mayor Eric Adams, according to Webb.
“No one should be denied housing because they have already been involved in the criminal justice system, plain and simple,” the mayor’s office wrote in a statement. “We look forward to reviewing the details of the legislation presented and will work closely with our City Council partners to ensure it achieves this goal.”
“Formerly incarcerated New Yorkers deserve a fair chance — indeed, often a first chance — and in too many areas their past leads to discrimination and the erection of barriers to interfere with readjustment and increase recidivism. “wrote public attorney Jumaane Williams in a statement.
But some owners object.
“While everyone deserves a second chance, it is counterintuitive to prohibit building owners from using criminal background checks – the most important variable whose relevant and appropriate information allows them to s fulfill their legal and moral responsibility to provide safe housing for existing tenants,” Joseph Strasburg, president of a landlord group, the Rent Stabilization Association, wrote in a statement.
With the support the bill has among city decision-makers, opposition from landlords may not matter.
“We’re very confident that we’ll be able to get it adopted this year,” Clark said.