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CA County First To Ban Criminal Background Checks For Housing

Alameda County, Ca., has become the first in the nation to pass a law banning landlords from conducting criminal background checks on applicants, a significant move meant to curb housing discrimination against former prisoners, reports The Guardian. The county board of supervisors voted Tuesday to adopt a Fair Chance housing ordinance, which would prohibit landlords in private and public housing from using criminal records when considering prospective tenants. The law, passed with four yes votes and a fifth supervisor abstaining, also bans landlords from advertising that people with criminal histories shouldn’t apply, and it establishes that an individual with a criminal record can’t be banned from moving in with a family member. The initiative is part of a growing movement across the U.S. to undo the harsh treatment of people with criminal records, with tens of millions of people denied access to jobs, housing, benefits, education and other basic rights due to old convictions. In California, an estimated eight million people have criminal records, roughly one in five residents. A University of California Berkeley, survey in 2019 estimated that 73 percent of people living in Oakland encampments were formerly incarcerated. Out of 9,700 unhoused people in Alameda County’s 2022 homelessness survey, 30 percent said they had interactions with the criminal legal system in the past year.


“There is this direct pipeline from prison on to our streets and into homelessness,” said Margaretta Wan-Ling Lin of Just Cities, an organization that backed the ordinance. “Our nation is going through a reckoning around our history of racism and mass incarceration policies, and an important part of repairing that harm is removing the stigma and structural discrimination against people with a criminal record.” When housing providers refuse tenants based on their records, it can also prevent families from reuniting after a prison sentence. Lee “Taqwaa” Bonner of the Fair Chance campaign noted that when people re-enter society, they are typically required to live in their home cities but struggle to find a place to accept them. Alameda County’s new ordinance allows landlords to review the sex offender registry. While some property owners have opposed the law, arguing that background checks are an important safety measure, proponents note that landlords still have wide discretion in how they select tenants. The new law is due to take effect when the county’s COVID eviction moratorium expires at the end of April.

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