Admissions Policies of HUD-Subsidized Housing Providers in Rhode Island Frequently Far Exceed HUD-Mandated Exclusion Criteria

An article in Housing Policy Debate, Locked Out: The Systematic Exclusion of Poor Renters from Federally Subsidized Housing,” examined the admissions policies of 108 Rhode Island public housing agencies (PHAs) and privately owned multifamily properties with Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance (PBRA). The authors found that these HUD-subsidized housing providers frequently went beyond HUD-mandated categorical exclusions, adding criteria that may disadvantage many prospective low-income tenants. Forty-two percent of PHA’s Admissions and Continued Occupancy Plans (ACOPs) or PBRA property’s Tenant Selection Plans (TSPs) explicitly mentioned that a felony conviction was grounds for denial, and 81% provided for denial of applicants based on alcohol use. In addition, they used long lookback periods: on average, they examined 10.1 years of criminal history, 5.2 years of credit history, and 4.7 years of landlord history.

Federal regulations have four categories that trigger an automatic denial of assistance in federally subsidized housing: an eviction in the past three years from federally assisted housing for drug-related criminal activity, current engagement in illegal drug use, a pattern of illegal drug use interfering with other residents, or presence on the lifetime sex offender registry. Housing providers have latitude to expand the grounds for denial of assistance in their own admissions policies. The authors catalog such expanded admissions criteria to get a better sense of how many housing providers impose.

The authors requested admissions policies from 293 HUD-subsidized housing providers in Rhode Island (25 PHAs and 268 PBRA developments). They received 108 ACOPs and TSPs covering 37% of the total HUD-subsidized developments and 41% of the total assisted units in the state. The authors identified whether policies included criteria related to criminal legal history, alcohol use, landlord history, and credit history. They also identified whether the policies specified how far into an applicant’s past they would look and whether the housing providers would consider mitigating factors (i.e., the mere presence of such factors did not always indicate automatic denial).

While 80% of the policies received referred to the HUD-mandated exclusion criteria, the vast majority also indicated other provisions related to criminal history, drug use, and alcohol use. Seventy-eight percent (78%) also included language explicitly denying tenants with a history of drug-related criminal activity, 77% denying for violent criminal activity, and 79% denying for other criminal activity including public drinking and prostitution. Nearly one fourth (24%) of the policies suggested that arrests might be considered as part of a criminal history. More than four out of five policies (81%) deny applicants on the basis of alcohol use. The majority (70%) had some provisions that considered mitigating factors, such as participation in drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs.

The examined policies went beyond HUD-mandated exclusion criteria to consider other aspects of tenants’ financial history. Fifty-eight percent (58%) considered previous evictions, 27% considered bankruptcies, and 21% considered foreclosures. They also looked further into applicants’ pasts than required by HUD: the average looked at 10.1 years of criminal history, 5.2 years of credit history, and 4.7 years of landlord history.

The screening policies varied by type of development. Those serving families had less restrictive provisions across criminal, landlord, and credit history criteria. Developments serving persons with disabilities were more likely to explicitly reference other criminal activity as grounds for denial. PHAs were less likely to explicitly mention rental and credit payment history and unit upkeep. PBRA properties had longer criminal lookback periods and were more likely to reference felony convictions, landlord history-related factors, and bankruptcy.

The authors note that the ostensible intention of PHAs and private owners of multifamily properties with PBRA assistance in adopting additional admission criteria is to protect the safety of tenants and the financial viability of developments. The authors assert that some of the additional criteria can unfairly exclude applicants from much-needed housing opportunities. This study does not analyze the effects of these additional criteria nor how they are employed in practice.

Find the report here: