Fair and Accessible Renting for Everyone

The Fair Accessible Renting for Everyone (FARE) Coalition won an historic victory in 2017 by successfully advocating for passage of the Fair Chance Housing Ordinance in Seattle, including major amendments that create the most progressive housing policy for people with criminal records of any major city in the country. The August 2017 bill signing concluded two years of advocacy by the FARE Coalition, and comes nearly ten years after the Village of Hope and Sojourner Place (now Jubilee Women's Center) first raised community concerns over the use of criminal background checks as rental housing criteria.

Through democratic, community-led advocacy strategies, FARE members engaged in visual storytelling, lobbying, and even collective bill drafting to reshape the traditional narrative of policymaking. Members were encouraged to share their own stories across platforms of their choosing, and it was these stories that made the difference. With race equity as our guiding principle, we compelled the Seattle City Council to see criminal background screening for the racially discriminatory practice it is. A recent fair housing test in Seattle found that Black and Latino prospective renters were more often told about criminal record and credit checks than White prospective renters. Four out of five landlords use criminal background checks to screen out prospective renters, refusing to rent out to individuals with criminal records due to concerns of public safety or the perception that one’s criminal record is an indicator of their ability to meet tenant obligations. However, a growing body of research has found these concerns to be false. A study coauthored by Columbia Legal Services Executive Director Merf Ehman concluded that there is no empirical evidence that connects one’s criminal record to an unsuccessful tenancy. To base one’s eligibility on a criminal record is not only inaccurate but also leads to racial disparities in access to housing, due to the disproportionate impact of the criminal justice system on communities of color.

The City's original policy proposaImage may contain: 4 people, people sittingl, following recommendations made by a stakeholder group initiated by the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA), would have allowed the continued use of criminal background checks by landlords for convictions less than two years old. But the FARE Coalition, made up of people impacted by criminal records and advocacy groups, argued that if no evidence exists to support the use of background checks in tenant screening, then even a two-year "lookback period" is inappropriate and discriminatory. In July 2017, over 100 people were present at a special CRUEDA Committee meeting on the proposed Fair Chance Housing Ordinance, with 60+ people sharing testimony in support of an amended version of the ordinance. Those messages were echoed over the course of several more public comment periods, and ultimately won Council's favor.

At the final vote, attending Councilmembers voted unanimously in favor of the stronger, amended Fair Chance Housing Ordinance, which will go into effect in February 2018. Major cities from around the country have contacted us for insight into the movement, and the FARE Coalition hopes to support similar legislation in other jurisdictions going forward. 

Media coverage:

Thank you to our FARE Community Partners: