Fair and Accessible Renting for Everyone

All families should have an opportunity to live in a safe and healthy home. Fair and effective rental policies will continue to help move our country beyond a legacy of segregation and discrimination and toward opportunity for all. A strong sense of community means we care that there are opportunities for success for every person.

Yet, too often, our friends, family, or neighbors who have a criminal record face enormous barriers to rebuilding and reclaiming full responsibility for their lives, including access to fair and accessible rental housing.

Fair, accessible renting practices are an important aspect of a successful reentry for people who have been incarcerated. FARE Chances, Strong Communities examines why and suggests policies that would help create fairer chances for people who are reentering the community.

The Fair Accessible Renting for Everyone (FARE) coalition consists of community members who have criminal records and organizational partners across the City of Seattle and King County who are committed to race equity. 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.

Throughout fall of 2016, we in partnership with the Tenant’s Union and the FARE Coalition worked closely with impacted community members, hosting community drafting sessions around an ordinance tackling the issue of access to renting for formerly incarcerated individuals.

In June 2017, Mayor Ed Murray released his proposal for a Fair Chance Housing Ordinance which would limit how landlords could use criminal records. The proposed ordinance is currently before the City Council’s Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development, and Arts (CRUEDA) Committee. While a step in the right direction the FARE Coalition believes amendments are needed in order to truly end this discriminatory practice of tenant criminal record screening. 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 mostly in support of the Ordinance with the following amendments:

  1. The Council should do away with the "lookback period" altogether.
  2. The Council should not exempt any types of property from coverage under the ordinance, the exempted property being the only affordable housing for many people with records.
  3. The City must do much more to assist people with records in finding and maintaining affordable housing. With the rising cost of housing and other barriers, this is simply not enough.

The committee will meet again on the proposal July 25 and vote on the proposal August 8, 2017.

The United States has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, with over a 700% increase from 300,000 incarcerated individuals to 2.2 million individuals over the last 40 years. While Washington State’s incarceration rate is slightly lower than the national average, the disproportionate rate of Black incarcerated individuals in our state is slightly greater than the national average. This racial disparity dramatically increases in King County, where, in 2014, the incarceration rate of Black individuals was 10.4 times greater than White individuals. King County’s disproportionate incarceration rate is also comparatively high for Latinos and Native Americans. People with criminal records face multiple obstacles to accessing basic needs, including housing.

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. 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 of Seattle’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) determined that increasing access to housing for people with criminal records was one of the most promising ways in which to impact housing affordability in Seattle.

Community Partners: