Fair Chance Housing Proposal Good Start, Coalition Pushes For More

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced today his Fair Chance Housing proposal, intended to reduce housing discrimination against people previously involved with the criminal justice system. If passed, this bill would restrict how landlords can use arrest or conviction records to exclude prospective renters.

Under the Fair Chance Housing proposal, landlords in the city of Seattle would no longer be able to ask prospective tenants about arrests that did not lead to a conviction, including pending criminal charges; convictions that have been expunged, vacated, or sealed; juvenile records; or convictions that are older than two years. For convictions less than two years old, landlords would need a substantial, nondiscriminatory, legitimate business reason to deny, evict, or take other adverse action against an applicant or tenant based on a conviction record. The proposal exempts shared occupancy units, ADU's and DADU's, and buildings containing four or fewer living units in which the owner resides in one unit (Federal FHA exemption).

The proposal has advanced this far, in part, thanks to interest and pressure from impacted communities, led by the Fair Accessible Renting for Everyone (FARE) Coalition. FARE consists of individuals and organizations, including Columbia Legal Services, across the City of Seattle who are committed to race equity.

The following is a statement from FARE regarding the Fair Chance Housing proposal:

We believe that housing is an essential right for everyone, regardless of an individual's criminal record. While Seattle has declared a state of emergency on homelessness, criminal records - which disproportionately impact communities of color, remain an unnecessary barrier to rental housing. Condoning rental housing discrimination works counter to the race equity work the City of Seattle is doing in other areas.

Data shows that the criminal justice system continues to discriminate against communities of color, womxn, LGBTQIA+ people, and people with disabilities. Therefore to deny an individual for having a criminal record systematically segregates these communities. FARE believes this proposal is a step in the right direction, attempting to end the social and legal stigma placed against formerly incarcerated individuals. But we hope to push the Seattle City Council further as they consider the proposal.

Any use of criminal records in tenant screening ignores the evidence showing that past convictions are not an indication of risky tenancy. Even two years gives legitimacy to a baseless and racially influenced stigma. The FARE Coalition urges the Council to amend the bill to remove the exemptions, and to completely disallow the use of criminal records in tenant screening.

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