January 24, 2006
HOUSING FOR EX-OFFENDERS
By: Joseph R. Holstead, Associate Analyst
You asked (1) if any laws are specifically designed to help ex-offenders obtain housing and (2) for suggestions to assist them to find adequate housing.
We did not find any state or federal laws designed to help ex-offenders obtain housing. On the contrary, federal law allows public housing agencies (PHAs) to deny eligibility to almost anyone with a criminal background. Additionally, private landlords have discretion in selecting tenants to live in their dwelling units, but they cannot discriminate against protected classes (i.e., based on race, ethnicity, or religion). Ex-offenders are not a protected class.
A 2004 public act, dealing with the Department of Corrections (DOC), and a 2005 act, addressing state supportive housing needs, provides insight into what (1) the state is doing to assist ex-offenders and (2) else the state could do to help them find adequate housing. In other words, DOC provides house planning in its discharge plans for ex-offenders and the state is creating supportive units for certain ex-offenders, but adequate housing is not always available.
In addition to these efforts, the state could further assist this population in finding adequate housing by (1) providing additional funding to create more supportive units specifically for ex-offenders, (2) making a list of such properties accessible to ex-offenders, or (3) studying the issue of ex-offender housing needs.
For your information, we have attached OLR Report 2001-R-0323 entitled, “Community Based Programs that Assist Ex-Offenders,” which provides information on organizations that have had contracts with the Judicial Department, receive state and federal funding, and assist ex-offenders with various services, including housing.
FEDERAL LAW AND AVAILABILITY OF PUBLIC HOUSING TO EX-OFFENDERS
The law allows PHAs to deny eligibility to people with a criminal background (24 C.F.R. § 882.518). A PHA may determine how long to deny housing assistance to people with criminal records and decide when they are sufficiently rehabilitated to return to public housing, according to the Legal Action Center (LAC). LAC is a nonprofit that advocates for the rights of people with criminal records, histories of addiction, and HIV/AIDS.
LAC contacted housing authorities in larger U.S. cities to obtain a general idea of what ex-offenders may face, based on its belief that many people leaving prison seek housing in these cities. For Connecticut, LAC looked at Hartford, one of the state's three largest cities. It found that the Hartford Housing Authority:
1. makes individual determinations about an applicant's eligibility based upon the relevance of the criminal record and
2. considers arrests not leading to conviction in its admission criteria.
Thus, offender status could work against an applicant.
STATE INITIATIVES AND LIMITATIONS
The DOC provides some housing contingences in its discharge plans and state funded supportive housing assists certain ex-offenders. However, there are limitations on the usefulness of the above initiatives. We discuss both the initiatives and limitations below.
DOC Discharge Plans
DOC prepares discharge plans that address housing needs in some fashion for every inmate released from prison, whether post-incarceration supervision is required. The Legislative Program Review and Investigation Committee (LPRIC) and Office of Fiscal Analysis (OFA) examined DOC's discharge process, among others, in a report required under PA 04-234, AAC Prison Overcrowding.
According to the 2006 report by LPRIC and OFA entitled, “Compliance Monitoring Project Status Report,” discharge plans for inmates under supervision typically include reporting schedules, release conditions, provisions for the offenders' transportation, housing, employment or education, and medical needs.
The department also develops a discharge plan for inmates released from prison with no post-incarceration supervision requirement. Most often these discharge plans include provisions for transportation from the prison to the inmate's residence, distribution of money, return of inmate's property, notification requirements (e.g., DNA sample, sex offender registration, DCF notification), and referrals to community-based services and programs, according to the report.
Additionally, DOC contracts for more than 1,000 halfway house beds and supervises more than 3,500 additional low risk offenders in the community to support re-entry into the community, according to its website.
Supportive housing is housing that is affordable to low-income individuals and provides services, such as counseling and healthcare, that tenants need.
PA 05-280, An Act Concerning Social Services and Public Health Budget Implementation Provisions, requires the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) commissioner to provide for up to 500 additional units of affordable, supportive housing for people with mental illness. These units are the second, “Next Steps”, phase of the Supportive Housing Initiative. The first phase, the Supportive Housing Pilots Initiative, was instituted in 2001 to create 650 units.
Under the act, Next Steps housing is for, among others in need, community-supervised offenders with serious mental health needs who are under Judicial Branch or DOC jurisdiction.
A 2003 OLR Report, 2003-R-0900, states that nearly 40% of inmates at the time had some degree of mental illness, with 15% being moderate to severely impaired, according to statistics from DOC, the Judicial Branch, and DMHAS. Furthermore, a recent Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) report notes that permanent housing with supportive services works well to prevent homelessness for those with serious mental illness (Strategies for Preventing Homelessness, HUD Office of Policy Development and Research, May 2005).
There are limitations on the usefulness of the above initiatives (although the state does fund other programs) and there is perhaps more that could be done.
While it is DOC's policy to address ex-offenders' housing in discharge plans (as noted above), public hearing testimony notes that ex-offenders leaving the prison system do not always have options other than homeless shelters.
At a Housing Committee public hearing on February 18, 2003, for example, Special Projects Director for New Haven's Community Services Administration's, John Huettner, testified:
In addition, the … Connecticut Department of Corrections, releases prisoners, after they've served their time, and they call this discharge planning, but they end up in our shelters and in some cases, it's part of the discharge plan. In other cases, they're just basically dumped and so there are two factors here that basically we're concerned about.
During that same fiscal year, in term of prison releases, 13% of the men that utilized our shelters came from prison release. Seven percent were women. This costs a considerable amount of money.
Similarly, although supportive housing initiatives aid certain ex-offenders with serious mental health issues, they exclude many others who do not have as serious health needs, but who may need some support.
Expanded Supportive Housing
The state could consider funding additional supportive units for ex-offenders with less serious mental health issues who nevertheless need help to avoid re-offending, in addition to the units that may be developed under PA 05-280 and include community-supervised ex-offenders with serious mental health issues as eligible to live there. The state could also offer tax incentives to landlords who make a housing unit or units available specifically for ex-offenders.
A reference list of supportive and other viable housing options for ex-offenders could be maintained by an agency or agencies and organizations involved in reducing recidivism rates. Ex-offenders could be made aware of the list as part of the discharge plan and they could contact the entity keeping the list at any time they need housing options.
The state could also study the short- and long-term housing needs of ex-offenders (e.g., need for adequate housing based on homelessness rates of ex-offenders), working toward a plan to develop housing opportunities for this population.