SAFEGUARDING ACCESS TO HOUSING

EVERYONE DESERVES A SAFE PLACE TO CALL HOME. But public and private tenant screening policies disproportionately impact low-income communities and people of color, and they often make it difficult for individuals to secure housing. No one should be denied housing solely because of poor credit, a past eviction filing, or prior criminal legal system involvement.

At Fair Share Housing Center, we advocate in New Jersey and nationally for tenant screening policies that prevent discrimination and prioritize individual circumstances. Third-party screening agencies, which are frequently contracted by landlords to perform reviews of prospective tenants, often reduce people to a number–without any regard to who they are beyond specific factors. Securing a home is much more than a business transaction for potential tenants. Tenant screening policies at the federal, state, and local level must reflect that humanity. 

prior criminal legal system involvement

In January 2022, New Jersey’s Fair Chance in Housing Act (FCHA) went into effect. The FCHA protects individuals with prior criminal legal system involvement, disproportionately people of color, from discrimination in the rental market by preventing landlords from asking about a potential tenant’s prior criminal legal system involvement. 

Fair Share Housing Center is actively engaged in efforts to educate New Jerseyans on the new law. If you or someone you know thinks they have been discriminated against because of prior involvement in the criminal legal system, file a complaint or contact the NJ Division on Civil Rights at FCHAinfo@njcivilrights.gov

We are also advocating on the federal level to encourage the Biden Administration and Congress to rethink discriminatory and archaic policies that are remnants of the failed War on Drugs. At the same time, we are partnering with advocates around the country to advance local and state policies like the FCHA to end housing discrimination against people with prior involvement in the criminal legal system.

Past Eviction Filings

Many landlords use prospective tenants’ past eviction court records as a reason to deny them housing. This is often done without any regard for the outcome of the case–even if the tenant wasn’t ultimately evicted. In other instances, an individual may have been evicted for falling behind on rent because of other expenses or extenuating circumstances. Evictions make it more difficult for disproportionately impacted populations, like low-income families and people of color, to find housing. If given the opportunity to provide additional details about a past eviction, a potential landlord may change their mind about an individual’s fitness for tenancy. Relying on a court record alone without any context creates a barrier to housing for many people.

Most recently, Fair Share Housing Center worked in coalition with partners to pass the People’s Bill which prevented landlords’ from considering eviction court records that were filed during the pandemic. We are currently advocating for stronger protections that would extend beyond the pandemic time period. No one should be denied housing solely based on a court record.

Credit SCores

Basing an individual’s fitness for tenancy on a credit score alone, without any additional context, fails to account for the  racist underpinnings of credit-score calculations. The financial activity that’s used to build credit–like mortgages, student loans, credit cards, and car loans–is inherently biased because structural inequities prevent access to wealth generating opportunities for low-income individuals and people of color. Credit scores also fail to include monthly payments like rent, utility bills, or cell phone payments that would help bolster most people’s credit scores. Because poor credit scores are more prevalent among low-income individuals and people of color, tenant screening policies that consider credit make it harder to find housing. At Fair Share Housing Center, we advocate for a more targeted assessment of an individual’s financial health that focuses specifically on an individual’s current ability to pay rent, rather than a credit score. We also support efforts to improve credit score calculations by including more routine bills–like utility payments, cell phone bills, and rent in credit scores. 

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When you give to Fair Share Housing Center, you are advancing the fight for affordable housing in the courtroom, at the State House, and in our nation’s capital.