Since we use conviction records as a screening criteria, it is important to consider this in the larger societal context. The disparate impact issue starts way before someone applying for an apartment. This is a simplified version of a much longer story. The sex offender issue is different so lets make that a different discussion.
For example, Landlords use felony drug records to screen. We now know that drug laws were written to unfairly punish one group over another. For example, the sentencing differences between powder cocaine and crack cocaine. First offenders with powder cocaine, used largely by white people, often times got off with probation. Offenders with the same weight of crack, used largely by Black offenders, went to jail or prison. This is where the disparate impact begins.
We know that cops overcharge so that “deals” can be made later in the process. Deals usually come with reduced charges with higher fines in exchange for little or no jail time. If you don’t have the money, you sit in jail. We know that if you had the money for a lawyer you could beat the charges and stay out of jail. If you didn’t have the money, well, you went to jail, because there was nobody that could make the deal. And of course, what groups don’t have the money for good lawyers?
So now enter the Heroin epidemic. The current form has been going on for about 10 years, about 6 in Wisconsin. It is largely affecting white middle class kids. They go to treatment a few times, they go to prison for possession, maybe theft, prostitution, and burglary. They come out as felons who can’t go home to their parents, they can’t get a decent job, nor decent housing. This is the push behind a lot of these changes, now, at this time. You can’t give the white kids a special deal for their medical condition of addiction without applying that equally across all protected classes.
Also, the industry’s response to being made more responsible for tenants behavior, [starting 20 years ago] coupled with easy access to records through the Internet have had a long term, unintended consequence that we as an industry, really need to look at. As Tim says below, this is nothing that was not predictable. But we weren’t proactive, so now we get to be reactive.
The wave of change in the criminal justice system that this HUD letter represents has got a lot of momentum. Its 25 years in the making. Coupled with the pressure of governments to reduce the cost of prisons, we’ll see a lot more change in the upcoming 5 years as America empties its prisons. And they all need a place to live.
I mean….If you follow Ron Johnson’s career, who in a million years would have guessed that he would be calling for more drug treatment, more action, spending more money on junkie, on national TV in WAUKESHA??????? Sitting next to Tammy Baldwin!
Bill is right. But this is wrong.
Yes, the HUD screening directive is in response to a criminal justice system that appears skewed against racial and social minorities.
The method chosen to correct the underlying problem completely ignores the cause. Rather, the Federal Government and the Administration made screening more complex and litigious instead of addressing unequal enforcement of criminal and municipal laws. Sure in the most egregious situations like Ferguson you see the government step in.
In general, this is another issue forced upon owners who were not the cause. This is a lot like the lead paint situation where the government permitted the use of a known dangerous product for decades, even requiring its use for some federally funded housing, before leaving most of the cost and legal challenges in the lap of the property owners.
So now owners will have to walk even more of a tightrope – rejecting far less applicants for criminal records may keep HUD happy, but then you have to deal with nuisance property concerns and worries that someone you put in may harm other tenants, employees or neighbors.