A past criminal history should not impact one’s ability to have a fair shot at basic necessities, such as housing. By successfully prohibiting landlords from checking a prospective tenant’s criminal background through the Fair Chance Ordinance, the city of Berkeley has displayed its commitment to providing equal opportunities to people whose lives were changed by criminal charges and who are seeking to reintegrate into society. Consequently, previously incarcerated individuals won’t have to worry about their past offenses when applying for housing.
Discriminatory housing practices have no place in Berkeley’s future or any city’s future for that matter. While Black and Hispanic people make up 32% of the population, they constituted 56% of all incarcerated people in 2015, according to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
To add further insult, those seeking to restore their lives after prison are met with little support and more roadblocks. Recently released or paroled individuals have been more likely to experience homelessness because of their criminal records, and those who are homeless are more likely to fall victim to recidivism. This vicious cycle of oppression needs to end by outlawing discriminatory housing practices, and more cities need to be active in implementing this policy.
What happens after a city prevents its previously incarcerated individuals from reintegrating into society? Although some landlords and tenants may be uneasy about the possibility of criminal activity taking place on their property, it takes an entire community’s effort to reduce recidivism. Furthermore, criminals such as lifetime sex offenders are exempt from this policy. Since previous offenders are more likely to commit a crime within two years of their release, it is vital that cities implement policies, such as the Fair Chance Ordinance, to help create a more seamless transition back into society for the recently unincarcerated.
Though it is a step in the right direction, the enactment of the Fair Chance Ordinance does not address a pivotal aspect of the housing equation: proof of income. Since those who just got out of prison are still likely to face employment discrimination and will thus be more likely to be unemployed, landlords have another avenue for rejecting their applications. Since there are no mandates to obtain employment before applying for housing, landlords can exploit this loophole and potentially still make discrimination possible. The next step on the city of Berkeley’s agenda should be to look into ways of preventing these sorts of loopholes in this new policy.
As past offenders reintegrate into society, cities need to treat them as human beings who deserve basic needs, such as housing. The city of Berkeley has made the decision to uplift these individuals, and now, it is time for others to follow suit.
Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the spring 2020 opinion editor, Simmy Khetpal.