In Connecticut, housing authorities and landlords can refuse to rent to formerly incarcerated people, and this often leaves many people who want a second chance at life at a disadvantage, even years after they have left prison.
The Connecticut legislature is considering House Bill No. 6431, which would prohibit housing providers from rejecting potential tenants based on their criminal history. Under the proposal, if an applicant’s convictions are more than 10 years old, they could not be considered. Convictions within 10 years of an application to rent could only be considered if they “would adversely affect the health, safety or welfare of other tenants,” such as a crime of physical violence.
The bill was debated at a public hearing before the legislature’s Housing Committee on Feb. 18.
Housing discrimination for people with a felony conviction slows down the reentry process. Ex-offenders told the committee about their struggles with reentering society after they were released from prison. Tracie Bernardi, a volunteer at the American Civil Liberties Union, described 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 without being on the lease. As a result, the family was 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 after reentry makes 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 of a hearing if they apply for subsidized housing. If they are granted a hearing, they could then 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 but has since 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.”