Expanding Justice and Opportunity
Housing Opportunities After Incarceration
Housing is one of the most basic human needs and is a key to successfully rebuilding a life after incarceration. As many as one in six Ohioans—or 1.92 million people have a misdemeanor or felony conviction. Individuals with criminal records face numerous barriers to obtaining safe, affordable housing. The number of people facing such barriers is even greater when arrest records are considered by housing providers, even though arrests do not always lead to prosecution and conviction. Without stable housing, returning citizens are twice as likely to become involved with the criminal justice system than those who obtain stable housing.
In April of 2016, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development issued guidance clarifying its position on the use of criminal records to screen applicants and residents and how using criminal records in screening policies and procedures may result in fair housing violations.
Housing providers, especially public housing authorities (PHAs), have a great opportunity to be at the forefront of ensuring the success of returning citizens and their families and the time to start doing so is now. For this reason, the Ohio Poverty Law Center has created and compiled a number of resources for both providers and their applicants and residents.
Low Income Housing Tax Credit
Where a child lives during their formative years has a profound influence on their future opportunities. The Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program is designed to provide families with low incomes with access to safe and affordable housing. It gives federal tax breaks to non-profit and for-profit developers in exchange for developing affordable housing. But according to a recent report – only 3.8% of LIHTC family units in Ohio are in census areas with a poverty rate of less than 10%.
Low Income Housing Tax Credits allocated to developers could be providing Ohio families with safe, affordable housing in areas of opportunity for employment, good schools, and safe neighborhoods. Limiting LIHTC housing only to the poorest and the most segregated areas undermines a family’s ability to access opportunities needed for economic mobility.
On August 16, 2016, a group of legal aid organizations and fair housing groups released a report by Abt Associates, a national research firm with expertise in housing. The report concluded that almost all affordable rental housing developed through the LIHTC program for families has been placed in highly-segregated, high poverty areas of Ohio. The LIHTC program has also cut back on the development of housing that serves families with children, which affects families in Ohio’s Appalachian and rural areas also suffering from a severe lack of safe and affordable housing.
Janet Hales discusses why it is so important that families have choices about where they live, including social determinants of health. She also explains why the location of LIHTC homes is important in fulfilling a main reason for the Fair Housing Act – to affirmatively further fair opportunities for all to move our country away from deep patterns of segregation, which deny the cherished right to be free from housing discrimination.
In July, OPLC’s Janet Hales and Steve Sharpe of Legal Aid Society of Southwest Ohio, LLC spoke to legal aid leaders from across the nation about LIHTC and advocating for opportunity housing at the National Legal Aid and Defenders Association Advocacy Leaders Conference in Park City, Utah.
Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act
Many people face more barriers than ever to getting education or training for a job that pays enough to move out of poverty. In July 2014, President Barrack Obama signed a bipartisan piece of legislation that recognized the need to invest in people with barriers to employment – the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). WIOA, which became effective in mid-2015, was intended to improve connections to employment and training opportunities that lead to economic mobility. People with low incomes and low skills have not traditionally received the in-depth, comprehensive services needed to move into good jobs. Experts agree that the changes in state workforce systems required by WIOA create the best opportunity anyone has seen in 16 years to reach and serve people previously left behind.
Because every person deserves the opportunity to succeed in work and to support themselves and their families, the Ohio Poverty Law Center is working on the state level to ensure that WIOA is implemented as intended. We are advocating for policies so that individuals with low incomes, low skills and multiple barriers to employment get the support and services they need to succeed in the job market and careers.