NYC Public Advocate Calls For Passage Of ‘Fair Chance For Housing’ Legislation In City Council

December 8th, 2022

Press Release

Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams spoke out today in support of legislation which would prohibit housing discrimination against New Yorkers with arrest or criminal records. During a hearing of the City Council Committee on Civil and Human Rights, he argued in favor of Intro 632, a landmark bill sponsored by Council Member Keith Powers which would ban housing providers from asking about arrest or conviction records or doing a criminal background check on potential tenants. The Public Advocate is a co-prime sponsor of the legislation.

"Formerly incarcerated New Yorkers deserve a fair chance – truthfully, often a first chance – and in too many areas, their past record leads to discrimination and barriers rising to interfere with re-adjusting and increase recidivism. Years ago, we passed a law to give people a Fair Chance – often a first chance – at employment, and it's past time we ensured a Fair Chance at housing,” said Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams of the bill. “This battle is occurring in a city with growing housing and homelessness crises, which are further compounded if you are a returning resident determined to be a productive member of the city. I’m proud to co-sponsor this legislation with Council Member Powers and urge the City Council to move quickly to pass this vital protection.”

Specifically, Intro 632 would would prohibit housing discrimination in rentals, sales, leases, subleases, or occupancy agreements in New York City, on the basis of arrest record or criminal history. Landlords, owners, agents, employees, and real estate brokers would be prohibited from obtaining criminal record information at any stage in the process. This would not apply where federal, state, or local laws, rules or regulations require exclusion based on criminal history or require a criminal background check for eligibility – it also does not prohibit inquiries into the NY sex offender registry. The bill outlines a fair housing process for applicants to dispute an adverse action based on arrest record or criminal history and does not apply to two-family owner-occupied housing or rooms in owner-occupied housing.

In New York City, nearly 750,000 people have a conviction record — almost 11% of the adult population. The Fair Chance for Housing Act would ensure that past convictions and arrests cannot bar formerly incarcerated New Yorkers from accessing housing. For too long, lack of access to consistent and affordable housing has made it even more difficult for New Yorkers to re-enter and succeed in society after incarceration. The Public Advocate argued, “According to a report done by the Prison Policy Initiative, formerly incarcerated people are nearly 10 times more likely to be homeless compared to the general public. For far too long, there has been no protection for New Yorkers whose housing applications have been denied due to criminal records.”

In 2015, City Council passed the Fair Chance Act to help New Yorkers leaving incarceration procure stable jobs by “Banning the Box,” barring criminal background checks or questions about past criminal history during the hiring process. The Fair Chance for Housing Act would extend the impact of this historic legislation to housing opportunities, so that New Yorkers who have already served their time are able to find both employment and housing. Like employment, stable, quality housing is essential in limiting recidivism and promoting public safety.

The Public Advocate implored City Council to support the legislation, noting that passage of the Fair Chance for Housing Act would help to address “decades of housing inequalities that Black and Brown New Yorkers have faced.”

Read the full legislation here, and the Public Advocate’s comments below.

STATEMENT OF PUBLIC ADVOCATE JUMAANE D. WILLIAMS

TO THE NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL COMMITTEE ON

CIVIL AND HUMAN RIGHTS

DECEMBER 8, 2022

Good Morning. 

My name is Jumaane D. Williams and I am the Public Advocate for the City of New York. Thank you very much Chair Williams and members of the Committee on Civil and Human Rights for holding this hearing and allowing me the opportunity to provide a statement. 

Housing is a basic human right and should be prioritized as our City continues to face a homelessness, housing, and affordability crisis. For today’s hearing, this legislation aims to address the housing discrimination faced by formerly incarcerated people. I am proud to be a co-sponsor on Int 0632-2022.

The Fair Housing Act was enacted in 1968 making it a critical piece of legislation that prohibits discrimination against renters or homebuyers on the basis of national origin, race, religion, sex, or disability. However, this legislation does not directly prohibit discrimination of potential renters or homebuyers who have criminal records. This discriminatory practice has been taking place in New York City for years and directly impacts Black and Brown New Yorkers who are disproportionately affected by the criminal justice system. Int 0632-2022, sponsored by Majority Leader Keith Powers, will prohibit housing discrimination in rentals, sales, leases, subleases, or occupancy agreements in New York City, on the basis of arrest record or criminal history. This bill addresses the collateral consequences of criminal records and stops the never-ending cycle of punishment. Formerly incarcerated New Yorkers deserve a fair chance at housing. They have continuous face barriers and discrimination in so many areas of their life which can heavily influence their integration back into society as well as cause an increase in recidivism.

Towards the end of 2020 we passed the, “Fair Chance Act 2.0” which banned employment discrimination on basis of arrest record. We must move forward and incorporate fair chances at housing for them. According to a report done by the Prison Policy Initiative, formerly incarcerated people are nearly 10 times more likely to be homeless compared to the general public. For far too long, there has been no protection for New Yorkers whose housing applications have been denied due to criminal records which shows that “right to housing” for residents have not been upheld by the Administration.

As the City continues to face the growing housing and homelessness challenges, this exacerbates the process for returning residents to fully assimilate and be their best selves. You cannot expect a returning resident to be productive and their best selves and then not allow them a place to live. 

Passing this bill will mean the start to restoring decades of housing inequalities that Black and Brown New Yorkers have faced for generations. I hope we can move forward with passing this bill as we have overwhelming support from over thirty co-sponsors along with Mayor Adams’ support. It is our duty to give them a chance, so we can all be safe. 

Thank you.

###

Our Office

David N. Dinkins Municipal Building
1 Centre Street 15th Floor North
New York, NY 10007

Email: gethelp@advocate.nyc.gov

Hotline: (212) 669-7250

Fax: (888) 409-0287*

Text: (833) 933-1692

*Our fax number has changed temporarily while we upgrade our infrastructure
© 2024 Copyright: Office of the New York City Public Advocate
Privacy Policy