Public Housing Thwarts, Not Supports, The Human Right To Housing After Incarceration

glass of milk
Glass of Milk photo by NIAID is licensed under CC BY 2.0
If you have ever been convicted for stealing food to feed your children, you can be barred from public housing in some U.S. states.

Encouraging as it might superficially seem, America’s Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) actually stood up in 2022 to allow Americans with criminal convictions to have access to public housing.

Why is this important? Because a great many of the formerly incarcerated are released from prisons with little money and no jobs (never mind a range of other possible issues, such as mental problems).

HUD-provided housing supports are often the only ones financially available to vulnerable former prisoners returning to society. For many years, people with criminal records have been absolutely barred from the only housing they can possibly afford. As a result, they have little or no option but to become homeless, or get themselves returned one way or another to prison housing.

One cheer, then, for all-powerful HUD and its recommendation on behalf of formerly incarcerated people.

But it should be remembered that HUD is quite capable and within its rights to lay down the law over issues such as the public housing eligibility. In spite of cracking the absolute barrier to public housing barrier for people criminal records, HUD has gone one step backward by invoking a kind of ‘notwithstanding’ clause. HUD is allowing states the widest latitude in supporting or denying a human right to truly affordable public housing. HUD dresses up as a good guy, then gives the states free rein to be meanies.

A great many housing authorities in the country today continue to discriminate against people with criminal records. In considering this state of affairs, it might be sensible to realize that violent, rapist, murdering drug kingpins are the exceptions in those returning to society from prison. To block such people from public housing, policies can be easily be refined to target them directly.

Imagine instead, a single mother with children, arrested and convicted for stealing food. And because housing associations often look far into the past, their vetoes may well relate to the crime of marijuana possession, even as swaths of America no longer count it as a criminal offence.

For an overview of this current widespread denial of basic human rights, read more at WJSM: Report: Policies Keep People with Criminal Records Out of Public Housing

The report in question, with a much more detailed examination of the problem, comes from Prison Policy Initiative: How your local public housing authority can reduce barriers for people with criminal records