Barriers to Housing for Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People 

The United States is the world’s largest jailer, imprisoning around 2 million people in state and local jails and prisons, juvenile correctional facilities, immigrant detention facilities, and prisons and jails on tribal or territorial lands. The FBI estimates as many as one in three Americans has some type of criminal record, including convictions for minor offenses, or arrests that never resulted in a conviction.

Bias inherent to the criminal-legal system has caused people of color – and particularly Black, Latino, and Native people – as well as people with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ+ community, to be disproportionately impacted by the criminal-legal system. Nationally, Black men are five times more likely to experience incarceration than white men, while Black women are incarcerated at double the rate of white women.

After decades of imprisoning people with punitive and destructive mandatory minimum sentences, lawmakers and criminal-legal system reform advocates are making progress in the decarceration of prison inmates across the country. Since reaching its peak in 2009, the state and federal prison population decreased 11% by the end of 2019; between February 2020 and February 2021, the number of people incarcerated in state, federal, and private prisons dropped by 16%.

However, as more formerly incarcerated people return to their communities, there is a growing concern about how they will fare upon reentry. Formerly incarcerated people typically return to low-income communities where resources, particularly affordable, accessible housing, are scarce. In addition to facing a national shortage of 7.3 million rental units affordable and available to extremely low-income households, a conviction or arrest record poses an additional barrier to accessing affordable, accessible housing. These barriers place people impacted by the criminal-legal system at risk of housing instability, homelessness, and reincarceration.

HUD and Congress must work to reduce barriers to affordable, accessible housing for formerly incarcerated and convicted people, their families, and communities -- everyone is safer when we all have a place to call home. 

Take Action: Comment on HUD's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on Reducing Barriers to HUD-Assisted Housing by June 10!

On April 10, HUD released a proposal to make significant updates to HUD policies in order to enhance access to federally subsidized housing programs for people with conviction histories. The rule would reduce and eliminate unnecessary barriers to HUD-assisted housing that too often prevent people exiting incarceration and those with conviction histories from accessing stable, affordable housing upon release.

Advocates, especially those with lived experience, are encouraged to submit public comments to help HUD shape the final guidance and support needed updates. Comments are due by midnight ET on June 10. 

How to Comment 

Participating in a public comment period is a great way to influence federal policymaking. After the public comment period ends on June 10, HUD must review and take into consideration all comments before publishing a final rule. Your comment can be short or long, written formally or informally, based on research or your own experiences and the experiences of people you know.

The Vera Institute for Justice (Vera) created a comment portal where advocates can submit comments in support of the proposed rule. While all positive messages help, to be fully considered by HUD, comments must be at least 30% original content.

Use the template below to help write an effective comment -- to be considered at least 30% original content, aim to add at least 2-3 additional sentences in your own words:  

Comment Template

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on HUD’s Proposed Rule, “Reducing Barriers to HUD-Assisted Housing.” Housing is vital to long-term stability and success, but too often, people exiting incarceration and those with conviction histories cannot access quality, affordable housing.

PHAs and owners of HUD-assisted housing have broad discretion in screening out applicants with conviction histories. Bias inherent to the criminal-legal system means that people of color are disproportionately impacted by these screening policies and the barriers they create.

These barriers have real consequences. [This would be a great place to write about your experiences. Consider questions like: What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced trying to find housing? How many apartments did you apply for before finding your current housing? Have you been able to find stable housing, and what has the impact been on you and your family? For people who don’t have lived experience, how have these barriers impacted your friends/family members/community?]

Our communities are safer and stronger when everyone has a place to call home. I support HUD’s efforts to remove unnecessary barriers to assisted housing.

What Should I Write About? 

Your expertise as someone with lived experience, or someone serving those with lived experience, is more than enough. Too often, decision makers are too far removed from the problem to find the solution. As a result, even well-intentioned efforts can come up short of what's needed. The voices of people who are directly impacted by these decisions -- people who navigate these systems every day -- are central to creating policies and programs that work. 

Tell policymakers about your or your clients' experiences finding housing. Consider questions like: 

  • What are some of the biggest challenges you/your clients have faced trying to find housing? 
  • How many apartments did you/your client apply for before finding housing? 
  • Have you/Has your client been able to find stable housing, and what has the impact been? 
  • How have these barriers impacted your/your clients' friends, family members, and community? 

In addition to your experiences, here are some themes to keep in mind: 

  • Racial equity: The disproportionate targeting of Black and Latino people by the criminal-legal system means Black and Latino people are disproportionately impacted by policies that create barriers to housing access for people with a conviction/arrest record. Removing these barriers is key to helping move the needle on racial equity. 
  • Stability: Housing promotes long-term stability for people exiting incarceration and those with a conviction/arrest record, as well as communities. People exiting incarceration can also more readily reunite with family living in assisted housing, which helps provided needed support. Moreover, there is no evidence that a history of conviction or incarceration has any bearing on a person's success as a tenant and neighbor. 
  • Community responsibility: People exiting incarceration and those with a conviction/arrest history are part of our communities, and we have a responsibility to make sure people in our communities have the resources they need to lead fulfilling lives. Additionally, while there is substantial evidence of the negative consequences of housing insecurity, there is no evidence that barriers to housing for people impacted by the criminal-legal system increase public safety. 
  • HUD responsibility: In the absence of broader laws protecting peoples' access to housing, it is HUD's responsibility to ensure people can find safe, stable, accessible housing, and to reduce barriers to housing access for those most marginalized. 

Additional Tips

  • Remember that comments are public. While you can -- and should -- draw on lived experience if you're able, remember that comments are public and refrain from providing any personally identifying information, including full legal names, addresses, and any other information you would not want widely or publicly available. 
  • Share the commenting opportunity with your networks. The more advocates, especially those with lived experience, weighing-in, the better HUD's final guidance will be. Please share this community opportunity with your networks and encourage them to weigh-in too! 

Questions, comments, or interested in getting involved in the Partnership for Just Housing? Contact Kim Johnson, policy manager at NLIHC ([email protected]), and Eric Sirota, director of housing justice at the Shriver Center on Poverty Law ([email protected]). 

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