Jobs For Felons Hub/Flickr
The Housing Justice Act is geared toward individuals with a history of homelessness, who often are arrested on minor offenses such as trespassing, sponsors say.
Jobs For Felons Hub/Flickr
Legislation touted as "ban the box" for rental housing passed the Montgomery County Council on Tuesday, with sponsors saying the bill will make it easier for individuals experiencing homelessness to find a place to live.
The "Housing Justice Act," which was introduced by Councilmember Evan Glass (D-At Large) in December, bans landlords from running criminal background checks on prospective tenants until after they make a conditional offer of housing. It also bars housing providers from inquiring or making housing decisions based on certain arrests and low-level misdemeanors.
"We know that some housing policies were originally designed to restrict socioeconomic diversity, and the passage of this legislation is one step to correcting decades and centuries of injustice," Glass said in a statement.
Under the act, a landlord can't deny housing to an individual simply because they were arrested for a matter that didn't lead to a conviction. They're also restricted from rejecting applicants convicted of nonviolent crimes such as trespassing, public urination, marijuana possession, refusing to leave a public building, and misdemeanor theft, among other minor crimes.
Indecent exposure is also included on the list of covered offenses because individuals experiencing homelessness can face arrests for changing clothes or relieving themselves in public. But the bill allows landlords to consider a tenant's sex offender registry status in addition to any sex offense arrests or convictions.
The bill does not apply to housing occupied by the landlord, homes rented by religious organizations or accessory dwelling units.
During a public hearing in January, supporters of the legislation testified that the bill would help stop the criminalization of homelessness, which disproportionately impacts Black residents. A 2019 "point-in-time" survey shows that 58% of individuals experiencing homelessness in the county were Black, and 31% were white.
"Our nation's legacy of using the criminal justice system to address social and public health problems has played a direct role in the overrepresentation of Black residents in both the criminal justice and homeless services systems," Alexandra Curd, a staff attorney with the Homeless Persons Representation Project, testified in January.
Curd added that the county issues a quarter of all criminal citations in the state, more than any other county, and Black residents receive nearly half of them. (Montgomery County is the state's most populous county.)
A fiscal analysis of the legislation says it's not clear how many individuals experiencing homelessness in Montgomery County have been arrested or convicted, but it's "safe to assume that the number is high."
The Housing Justice Act passed the Montgomery County Council unanimously.
This story is from DCist.com, the local news website of WAMU.