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Quarter 3 2021, Volume 9 Issue 3

Supporting the Previously Incarcerated Through Rental Housing Counseling

Previously incarcerated individuals often face steep challenges to finding stable housing. Many landlords bar potential tenants from housing if they have a criminal offense or felony. HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge recently indicated HUD’s commitment to this population, stating that people with criminal records deserve a second chance to rebuild their lives. The Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle (ULMS) and the Tennessee Housing Development Agency (THDA) are increasing access to safe, sustainable housing among this vulnerable population.

Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle

Linda Taylor is the Vice President of Housing and Financial Empowerment at ULMS, a 90-year-old civil rights organization with a mission for African American empowerment in education and employment. Linda’s primary goal as a housing advocate is to empower African Americans to attain homeownership and build generational wealth. Many of Linda’s clients do not have the means to obtain or maintain homeownership due to a lack of access to livable wages, lack of education, and/or poor credit history. Without options to own a home, community members become renters. Unfortunately, many landlords bar potential tenants from housing based on their criminal history if they have a felony. For the previously incarcerated clients counseled by ULMS, finding a place to live can feel like searching for a needle in a haystack.

Career Bridge is a 6-week job readiness program at ULMS designed for those previously incarcerated or long-term unemployed. Through Career Bridge, Linda teaches participants how to create a household budget, save and track expenses, and build credit. In a Career Bridge class, Linda met a mother of three looking to find work and housing stability as she had recently come out of incarceration. Through Linda’s guidance, her client received a Renton Housing Authority Section 8 voucher, and she interned at the front desk of ULMS to gain experience.

At every turn in the search to find housing, Linda and her client ran into a constant roadblock: her past criminal record. Linda would find single-family homes big enough for her client’s family that fit within the voucher limit, but she would get denied every time based on her record. It was discouraging for Linda to see a mother working to provide the best for her family, unable to find housing due to her past. Linda realized that due to Seattle’s Fair Chance Housing Legislation, a landlord could not bar housing to an individual due to their criminal record within Seattle city limits. Linda and her client were able to change the voucher to the Seattle Housing Authority and find a home for her family within the voucher limit.

The housing counselors of ULMS encounter these situations frequently in the housing department. Housing counselors continue to work with clients toward the goal of homeownership, where criminal background checks are not a barrier. However, Linda looks forward to a time where more jurisdictions implement policies to assist renters with criminal histories in accessing stable housing as they move on from their pasts.

Tennessee Housing Development Agency

Since 1973, THDA has worked with partners across the state to increase housing access to some of its most vulnerable populations. In addition, THDA believes housing education plays an important role in combatting perpetual homelessness and housing instability. In service of this mission, THDA offers the Good Tenant Training Program (GTT), which helps previously incarcerated individuals gain the skills they need to overcome housing challenges.

Previously incarcerated individuals often leave correction facilities with a lack of assets and support systems. Additionally, they are often unaware of the resources available to assist them. The GTT Program targets obstacles preventing the previously incarcerated from finding stable housing through a comprehensive rental education workshop. The four-hour workshop taught by a HUD certified housing counselor provides participants the opportunity to learn practical life skills and gain knowledge on a variety of rental topics relevant to their life experience. After completing the course, participants receive a certificate of completion and an opportunity to receive additional housing counseling services. Some participants who previously could not obtain housing gained housing when Day Reporting Center (DRC) staff connected them with housing providers and clients were able to show potential landlords the certificate from the GTT class.

The GTT Program would not be possible without the collaboration of key community partners such as the Tennessee Department of Corrections. The collaboration started with the Johnson City Community Resource Center and DRC location. As a result, the program has had several successes:

  • Johnson City DRC requires their participants to attend the GTT Program.
  • Parole and probation officers often refer previously incarcerated individuals to the workshops.
  • The program has expanded to the DRC in Knox County, Tennessee, and a homeownership model of the program has been established with the U.S. Courts in Middle and East Tennessee.
  • THDA has collaborated with the Tennessee Rehabilitative Initiative in Correction (TRICOR) who provides life skills training for incarcerated persons across the state of Tennessee. THDA staff members facilitated a GTT Train-the-Trainer for TRICOR staff and provide this same training to TRICOR new hires as needed.

THDA continues to collaborate with community partners to bring the benefits of the GTT program to as many participants as possible. Through the education and training provided, previously incarcerated individuals find greater access to housing opportunities and learn how to position themselves to achieve long-term housing solutions.

coworkers talking to each other

“Someone’s past should not prevent them from finding current housing.”

– Linda Taylor, Vice President of Housing and Financial Empowerment at the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle