Currently in Connecticut, housing authorities and landlords can refuse to rent to formerly incarcerated people when they are applying for somewhere to live. Often, this causes a disparity for many people who want a second chance at life, even years after they return from prison.
The Connecticut legislature is considering House Bill No. 6431 that would prohibit housing providers from denying housing to potential tenants based on their past criminal history. If the conviction occurred more than ten years before, it could not be considered. If it occurred within ten years of the application to rent, it could only be considered if it “would adversely affect the health, safety or welfare of other tenants,” for example if it were a crime of physical violence.
The bill was debated at a public hearing before the legislature’s Housing Committee Feb. 18.
Housing discrimination for people who have a felony conviction slows down the re-entry process. Ex-offenders speaking to the committee outlined their struggles re-entering society after they were released from prison. Tracie Bernardi, a volunteer at the American Civil Liberties Union, told her story of what it was like to come home after being incarcerated.
“My boyfriend called the [property manager] renting the apartment and she suggested that [my boyfriend] not add my name to the apartment because the property owner would deny me,” she said. Two years later, the landlord discovered that Bernardi was living in the house but not on the lease. As a result, the family was later evicted.
People who have been incarcerated multiple times experience homelessness at rates 13 times higher than the general public, according to a 2018 report from the Prison Policy Initiative. The report also concludes that homelessness following re-entry make it more likely that a person will go back to prison.
“Arresting, fining, and jailing homeless people for acts related to their survival is not only cruel; it also funnels formerly incarcerated people back through the “revolving door” of homelessness and punishment, which reduces their chances of successful reentry at great cost to public safety,” according to the report.
Under the bill prospective tenants with criminal records would have the option to a hearing if they apply for subsidized housing. If they are granted a hearing, they would then be able to explain how they have or plan to change post-conviction.
Nick Pellitta, a law intern at the New Haven Legal Assistance Association Re-entry Clinic, shared the story of Andrew who had been convicted of a drug offense. Since then, Andrew has maintained sobriety and stayed out of jail.
“He was initially denied from federal subsidized housing where [his wife] lived…The clinic represented Andrew at the federally mandated hearing on his denial.” he said. “After his hearing Andrew was approved for subsidized housing and able to join his family. He has been a successful tenant for over five years now.”