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Jackson Mayor introduces housing ordinance to protect justice-impacted families from discrimination

‘Fair Chance’ rule gives people with a criminal record hope for a safe home.
Published: Feb. 8, 2021 at 9:29 AM EST
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JACKSON, Mich. (WILX) - Monday Nation Outside joined Jackson Mayor Derek Dobies and City Councilmember Will Forgrave to introduce a Fair Chance Housing Ordinance to City Council. The new ordinance would give those with a criminal record a chance to find safe and affordable housing for their families within the city.

If passed, the Fair Chance Housing Ordinance would put an end to the practice used by some landlords and rental management companies who automatically deny rental agreements to anyone who has a criminal record, no matter what a person’s arrest or conviction record shows or how old the information may be. If approved, Jackson would join several other cities in Michigan that have already enacted similar housing policies, including major metropolitan areas and smaller cities.

“Blanket housing denials based on prior convictions are inhumane, and will no longer be a part of the compassionate, equitable city we are building together,” said Mayor Derek Dobies, who led the City’s efforts to pass internal ban-the-box policies for employment applications. “This policy will ensure housing stability as we underscore that fact, we are a tolerant, inclusive city.”

City Councilman Will Forgrave confirmed that the policy will not impede landlords from carrying out background checks on applicants.

“This policy is just common sense,” said Forgrave. “Landlords will still be able to perform background checks under this ordinance, they just won’t be able to discriminate against minor offenders or prospective tenants with offenses that have long passed.”

Several cities in Michigan already have Fair Chance Housing ordinances. Detroit enacted one in 2018, followed by Kalamazoo and Ypsilanti in 2020. Across the nation, cities with similar ordinances include Washington D.C., Seattle, and Minneapolis. People with criminal records comprise about a third of the adult U.S. population. The policies proposed help secure safe housing for those individuals and their families.

Supporters of the Fair Chance Housing Ordinance say that without policies like this, many people with a criminal record face a tough stigma and prevalent discrimination policies designed to keep them out of safe and affordable housing. Many landlords routinely prohibit anyone with a conviction on their record from renting, even if the conviction was for a minor offense or occurred decades ago. This discrimination persists in spite of a 2016 guidance from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development warning landlords that blanket bans on people with a criminal record are tantamount to racial discrimination and therefore illegal.

“Finding ways for people with criminal convictions to have access to secure housing leads to safe communities,” said Tony Gant, the Jackson coordinator for Nation Outside, a nonprofit led by justice-impacted people working for criminal justice reform. “Formerly incarcerated people who have housing are more likely to be employed, more likely to seek further education, and less likely to engage in crime.”

“I think what will happen is landlords will start seeing they are denying a big pool of people who can be great tenants,” said Tony Gant.

Tony Gant is working with the city to get the proposal passed.

He and the mayor said it will benefit everyone long-term even though some people would prefer to know there aren’t convicts living near their families.

“I think it will increase public safety. We know that when formerly incarcerated people have access to secure housing, they are more likely to get a job, more likely to participate in their community,” said Dobies.

“People want Jackson to be a safer place lets tear down some of the barriers that keep people repeating the things we don’t want them to repeat,” said Gant.

The Fair Chance Housing Ordinance under consideration in Jackson would require landlords and management companies to verify that an applicant is otherwise qualified to rent and make a conditional lease agreement before inquiring about an applicant’s criminal history. It would also be prohibited to reject an applicant for any of the following:

  • an arrest that did not lead to a conviction
  • participating in a deferral program; an expunged offense
  • a juvenile conviction
  • misdemeanor convictions more than five years old
  • or civil infractions

The proposed Jackson ordinance would allow property owners to refuse leasing to people who are or have been:

  • convicted of violent offenses
  • on the sex offender registry
  • people convicted of arson, metal theft, vandalism or damaging real property
  • people convicted of crimes against landlords, management agents or other tenants
  • or people who have a drug-related conviction in the past five years

Mayor Dobies and City Councilmember Forgrave have asked City Administration to place the Fair Chance Housing Ordinance on the agenda for the Feb. 23 City Council meeting.

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