Of all the hurdles a person with a criminal record has to overcome, there is probably none greater than his fight for affordable housing. The problem goes way beyond the fact that he has a criminal record.
It is a common fact that persons with criminal records, though they have paid their debt to society, are still denied many of the basic rights that most people take for granted. Aside from jobs, applications for credit, and a number of other things, affordable housing is pretty close to the top of the list. The reason may or may not surprise you.
The underlying problem is that there just isn’t enough affordable housing to fill the need in the United States. The United States Housing Act of 1937 tried to make it so that everyone would be given affordable housing and didn’t have to worry about living out on the street. What the act in a sense provided for was a number of housing establishments to be created so that people with limited means would have a place to live. Today we often refer to these buildings as sub-standard housing, though that’s not what it was meant to be.
What the act of 1937 failed to foresee was the demand for this housing outweighing the supply. There are more poor people today than ever in our history, even during the depression, and the number is increasing everyday. There just isn’t enough housing to go around for all the people in need.
Unfortunately, many of those people in need are ex-convicts. The reason for this is because of the terrible vicious cycle that being convicted of a crime creates. Ex-convicts are normally denied the better paying jobs and have to settle for minimum wage positions as dish washers or janitors. This immediately rules out any chance of this person being able to afford the kind of housing that many of us take for granted. Certainly he’s not going to be able to qualify for a mortgage for a home. Even a regular apartment would be out of his means, so all that is left to him is the option of affordable housing.
The problem is that because of the great demand and limited supply, the people who get the housing are the ones that are termed as “deserving tenants”. Because of the enormous gap between demand and supply, officials have been forced to adopt a form of triage to determine who will receive it. Most of the polices in place are what are called “one strike policies”. In other words, if a person has even one criminal conviction they are ineligible for housing in that area. This makes it difficult if not impossible for an ex-convict to get housing.
The reason for the one strike policy, so they claim, is for the safety of the other tenants. The rationale is that they shouldn’t have to live in fear that an ex-convict is going to make them the victim of a crime.
The solution does not yet exist, nor does it appear that there will be a solution in the near future. With ever toughening laws against ex-convicts, including the relatively new Megan’s Law, it is becoming more and more difficult for a person just out of prison to have any chance in this world.