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NHLP established its Re-entry Initiative in an effort to increase access to federally assisted housing for people leaving incarceration. For many individuals returning to the community, federally assisted housing is the only option for decent, affordable shelter. Harsh admission policies, however, often prevent people with a criminal record from obtaining such housing. NHLP is advocating for public housing authorities and private owners of federally assisted housing to adopt more flexible admission policies and to set aside units for individuals returning to the community. Click here for An Affordable Home on Re-entry: Federally Assisted Housing and Previously Incarcerated Individuals.


U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing Criticizes Federal One-Strike Policies

The UN Special Rapporteur recommends that the federal government "prohibit the use of criteria such as drug tests and criminal records, for gaining access to subsidized housing."


Does your PHA deny admission or assistance on the basis of an old criminal record?

Public housing authorities that reject individuals on the basis of an old criminal record assume that it is a good predictor of future criminal behavior. Recent research shows, however, that individuals with an old criminal record do not exhibit a higher risk of committing a crime in the future than individuals without a criminal record.

Impact of SEVRA on Screening Process for Individuals With a Criminal History (Current as of November 2009)

On September 30, 2009, the Financial Services Committee of the House of Representatives sent the Section 8 voucher Reform Act of 2009 (SEVRA) to the House floor to be scheduled for a full House vote. H.R. 3045, 11th Cong. (2009) (as reported to the House). The bill contains several provisions that would alter the screening process for individuals with a criminal record.

Model PHA Policies on Screening Applicants for a Criminal Record

Although federal law limits the freedom of PHAs, it does not prevent the adoption of reasonable and flexible admission policies on past criminal activity. The ACOP and Admin Plan should set forth policies that consider the situation of each applicant, the safety of residents and PHA staff, and the need for the community to provide housing to all low-income individuals. The sample provisions below allow PHAs to maximize access for individuals with a criminal record within the constraints imposed by federal law.

Innovative PHA Programs for Formerly Incarcerated Individuals

Several public housing authorities (PHAs) have proposed or implemented programs for formerly incarcerated individuals. The programs could serve as a starting point for advocates and PHAs working to develop local solutions for housing individuals returning to the community.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act and Criminal Background Checks

When landlords use consumer reporting agencies to conduct criminal background checks on prospective tenants, the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act applies. This outline highlights the relevant provisions of the FCRA and indicates where the California Investigative Consumer Reporting Agencies Act imposes further obligations on landlords and consumer reporting agencies.

Letters to and from HUD regarding informal guidance on screening applicants for a criminal record

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan has sent two letters to housing providers recognizing the pressing housing needs of individuals who have been incarcerated and urging the adoption of flexible admissions policies that enable these individuals to secure housing and rejoin their families.

Best Practices for Landlords: Screening Applicants for a Criminal Record

Aside from those who receive certain kinds of HUD funding, housing providers are not required to screen applicants for a criminal record. Nevertheless, landlords often conduct criminal background checks on potential tenants. Advocates should ensure that landlords that do screen applicants for a criminal record are following best practices.
Note: The best practices below have a California focus.

Local Anti-Discrimination Ordinances

A few cities and counties have passed ordinances that prohibit discrimination against individuals with an arrest or conviction record in the housing context.

Statutes and Regulations


Federal statutes place restrictions on the admission of individuals with a criminal record to federally assisted housing. In the context of screening individuals with a criminal record, federally assisted housing refers to public housing, the voucher program, project-based Section 8, Section 8 Moderate Rehab, Section 202, 811, 221(d)(3), 236, 514 and 515. See 42 U.S.C. § 13664. The rules below do not apply to Low Income Housing Tax Credit properties, Shelter Plus Care, the Supportive Housing Program, or Housing Opportunities for People with Aids.


Public housing – 24 C.F.R. §§ 960.203 (tenant selection criteria), 960.204 (denial of admission for criminal activity or drug abuse), 960.208 (notification of denial, right to informal hearing).

Section 8 voucher program – 24 C.F.R. §§ 982.552 (denial of admission), 982.553 (denial of admission for criminal activity or alcohol abuse), 982.554 (notification of denial, right to informal hearing).

Administrative References

Screening and Eviction for Drug Abuse and Other Criminal Activity; Final Rule, 66 Fed. Reg. 28,776 (May 24,2001)

HUD Notice PIH 98-20 (HA) Instructions For Obtaining FBI Criminal History Record Information
The Notice advises PHAs how to obtain FBI criminal history record information for the purposes of applicant screening, lease enforcement, and eviction.


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