Having a criminal conviction on your record can affect many aspects of your life, even if you have served your sentence, paid your fines, and reintegrated yourself into the community. Seattle is currently considering a “Fair Housing” bill for the city which would place regulations on landlords and work to prevent discrimination of certain classes of people. The details of the bill are currently under debate, and people are in conflict as to who might be protected under the bill, such as people of color, people with disabilities, or people with a history of homelessness or criminal convictions
The bill would instigate a new policy of “fair chance housing,” which would “limit a landlord's ability to look into a rental applicant's criminal history.” Legislators and citizens of Seattle debate the extent to which a landlord's power to review the criminal history should be prohibited. Some believe that a landlord should be able to look at whatever he or she wants, while others want to limit the background check to the last two years or prevent it altogether.
In the current state of things, people with a criminal record are not considered a protected class of people and may be denied housing without recourse for actions. There are currently an estimated 173,000 Seattle citizens with a history of one or more felony convictions, so this bill has the opportunity to affect many lives in the city and provide protections for thousands who can currently be denied housing.
The current state of the bill, which was introduced in June by Seattle mayor Ed Murray, would prevent landlords from unilaterally prohibiting anyone with a criminal background from living on their properties. It would additionally prohibit “landlords from asking about any convictions older than two years, arrests that did not lead to a conviction, convictions that have been vacated, and juvenile records.” Some support the bill in its current form, while others believe that it does not go far enough to protect those with criminal records.
One individual, for example, is speaking out about his personal experience trying to reestablish himself after federal prison and find long term housing. Scott Clancy was convicted of fraud in 2002 and spent four years in a federal prison. Upon his release, he has been struggling to maintain housing and steady employment, in part due to his criminal record. He spoke about the difficulties of trying to find housing : “I believe very strongly everyone deserves a second chance; a crime should not work against you for the rest of your life.”
Nick Straley, a legal advocate for the bill, speaks to other possible positive benefits of implementing a bill which protects those with criminal histories. He points out that “the reality is that getting people housed makes us safer because crime rates go down. Empirical evidence is absolutely rock-solid on that point. The more people housed, the safer we are. So, one of the things that should be done is to remove criminal records as a barrier to housing. There's no proof that it creates any safer tenancies.”