By Kate Scott, Deputy Director

The Equal Rights Center is excited to release its newest publication, Criminal Records Screening and Fair Housing: A Toolkit for Consumers . The toolkit is designed to educate individuals with criminal records about their fair housing rights and provide information about how to effectively advocate for those rights.

Nearly one in three Americans has a criminal record. Across the country, some people are more likely to have a criminal record. Across the country, some people are more likely to have a criminal record than others. This is true because of a variety of policy trends and social factors, not necessarily because such groups are more likely to commit crimes. Nationally, African Americans and Hispanics are arrested, convicted, and incarcerated at rates disproportionate to their share of the general population.

Criminal records can serve as a major barrier for individuals in securing safe housing that meets their needs, even though, in many instances, a person’s criminal record in no way indicates whether he or she will make a good tenant.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Justice are responsible for enforcing the Fair Housing Act. Even though having a criminal record is not a protected identity under the Fair Housing Act, both agencies have released information about how the Fair Housing Act may apply to criminal records screening policies in 2016.

In October 2016, the ERC released a report, Unlocking Discrimination, based on civil rights testing of these issues. In total, 47% of tests conducted revealed differential treatment from a housing provider that favored the white tester over the African American tester. Further, 28% of tests revealed a criminal records screening policy in place that may have an illegal disparate impact on the basis of race.

As a result of this investigation and ongoing complaints from individuals with criminal records that face discrimination when looking for a safe place to live, ERC staff developed the Criminal Records and Fair Housing toolkit for consumers. In addition to informing individuals of their rights under the Fair Housing Act, it provides a list of examples that indicate a person may have experienced discrimination. Finally, the toolkit provides guidance about how to report discrimination in housing and how to advocate for yourself if your housing application is denied due to your criminal record.

The toolkit is available for free via the ERC’s website here. Hard copies can be requested by emailing or calling the ERC at (202) 234-3062.

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