As the U.S. celebrates 51 years of the Fair Housing Act determined and committed moves are being made to end housing discrimination against those with arrest records. April is also recognized as National Fair Housing Month and Second Chance Month. As the chief sponsor (Commissioner Johnson (D-1) ) of the “Just Housing” amendment which will be a new clause within the Human Rights Ordinance (Cook County). This initiative looks to bar real estate agents and landlords from discriminating against those potential tenants with previous arrest records. Housing providers will be unable to deny those seeking housing regardless of when the act occurred and/or the crime type.

The testimony is to be heard on Wednesday prior to a full board vote on Thursday at the regular Cook County Board Meeting. The amendment will undoubtedly offer more family stability to over 3,300 individuals who return to communities within Cook County every year. The other key issue is recidivism and The Just Housing Initiative not only addresses this but also racial bias and residential segregation. These factors in turn lead to disparity primarily within ethnic minorities. The amendment has substantial support throughout Illinois which includes social and criminal justice organizations along with civil and housing rights associations. Other groups supporting the amendment include the Community Renewal Society, the Safer Foundation, Housing Forward, Housing Action Illinois and the West Side Health Authority amongst others. For a detailed overview download the Just Housing Initiative flyer here.

The amendment is seen as a landmark to addressing homelessness and housing insecurity. Rehabilitation can and does lead to permanent housing which in turn leads to a reduced risk of recidivism in turn a stable family footing giving children opportunity and security. The amendment restores integrity, confidence and humanity to the housing application process. Individuals should be viewed as more than a series of background check boxes or a flow chart. Fair housing should, unilaterally, bestow the right for anyone to locate wherever they prefer. In 2016 landlords and housing providers were warned (The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) that if they excluded individuals with arrest records on a routine basis they would be liable under the Fair Housing Act i.e. If a housing provider’s policy/practice has an unjustified discriminatory effect, even when the provider had no intention to discriminate.  

To redress the balance those with arrest records who have a grievance can file a complaint against housing providers and landlords. Those providers may well face fines, penalties and damages for any failures in processing applications of those who are qualified yet have arrest records. The Just Housing amendment further commits landlords and housing providers to notify an applicant, in detail, of any denial to housing. This amounts to a ‘written reason’ of their findings. The amendment is seen as a more robust move to real estate and housing unlawful discrimination. This includes convictions and arrests “that are not substantially related to the offender’s residence”. Furthermore arrest records “that have been ordered, sealed or expunged”. The law, if adopted, will go in to effect immediately in Chicago though an opt out for municipalities is available but those doing so risk being labeled and actively seeking adverse publicity. In relation to sex offenders the new amendment does not eliminate ‘landlord discretion’ to deny the rental of residential property on “the basis of a current sex offender registration requirement pursuant to the Sex Offender Registration Act (or similar law in another jurisdiction); a current child sex offender residency restriction”,

Over 100 local organizations have been brought together to add weight and momentum to the amendment and who are passionate about the housing disparity issue. Supporters and advocates along with faith leaders and social service providers all recognise the amendment is a critical step to a more just and safer community.

The Second Chance Month,  Highlights the challenging environment 65 million Americans find themselves in as a result of a criminal record. Brought about by the Charles Koch Institute, ACLU, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the NAACP in order to address, amongst other things, housing, family stability, recidivism, opportunity, education and housing.

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