Congress

Harris and Ocasio-Cortez team up on improving housing access for people with past criminal records

New legislation would raise burden of proof for evicting people from public housing

California Sen. Kamala Harris wants to improve access to housing for previously incarcerated people. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

California Sen. Kamala Harris and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are coming together on a new proposal to help with access to housing for previously incarcerated individuals.

The legislation from the two Democrats would, among other provisions, raise the burden of proof for making eviction and screening determinations related to criminal records. The lawmakers also want to ban the practice of allowing families to be evicted from public housing because of crimes that may be committed by visitors rather than residents.

“The denial of basic necessities to formerly incarcerated people does not make our communities safer. Denying housing to those that have been formerly incarcerated increases recidivism,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a statement. “Today we are taking a step to make our communities safer.”

CQ Roll Call reviewed a copy of the legislation being introduced in the Senate by Harris, a 2020 White House hopeful, and in the House by Ocasio-Cortez ahead of its formal release.

The bill would support public housing authorities through additional funds to help with the administrative costs associated with Section 8 housing vouchers for ex-offenders. It would also authorize an additional $10 million to fund support services for people who used to be in prison.

The measure would eliminate what are known as a blanket “1-strike” policies that basically  mandate evictions after first criminal offenses.

Hilary O. Shelton, the director of the NAACP’s Washington bureau and its senior vice president for policy and advocacy, was among the outside leaders praising the proposal.

“This bill will assist the public housing authorities but, perhaps more importantly, it will help people who have been incarcerated rebuild their lives after they have paid their debt to society. It will also go a long way to ensure that families are not punished for the poor or criminal actions of a single family member,” Shelton said. “This legislation represents an essential step toward reducing recidivism by helping ex-offenders find stable housing upon exiting a jail or prison and by keeping their family free from punishment by association.”

Harris framed the legislation in terms of broader efforts to overhaul the administration of criminal justice.

“I am proud to work with Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez to ensure formerly incarcerated individuals and their families have access to safe and affordable housing as they transition back into their community. By requiring a higher standard of evidence and a more holistic review process, we are taking a significant step toward giving Americans a fair chance to succeed,” the California Democrat said in a statement.

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