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Council Committee Approves Fair Chance Housing Legislation

The Council committee responsible for civil rights legislation recommended approval of the Fair Chance Housing ordinance by a 6-0 vote today.  The legislation, sponsored by Councilmember Lisa Herbold (District 1, West Seattle & South Park) and Council President Bruce Harrell (District 2, South Seattle), prohibits landlords from screening applicants based on past arrests or criminal convictions. The bill was developed to address barriers people with criminal backgrounds face when attempting to secure rental housing.

“Today, largely because of the new access to data that historically has been less accessible, landlords can reject tenants because they’ve been arrested in the past seven years – not convicted – arrested.  For a criminal justice system that disproportionately arrests people of color, punishing someone who hasn’t been found guilty is a true injustice,” said Councilmember Herbold.  “For those who have been convicted, the way I see it, you’ve paid your debt to society if you’ve served your time.  Blocking formerly incarcerated people from accessing stable housing or a job is an extrajudicial punishment and is also a recipe for recidivism and less safety for our communities.  I would expect anyone in favor of a safer Seattle to support this bill.”

Councilmember Herbold added, “Further we are in a homelessness state of emergency. If we do not do more to ensure housing providers provide housing for the 55% of unsheltered homelessness people who identify their criminal background as a barrier to accessing housing, then we are derelict in our duty to address the homelessness state of emergency – for which we have the authority and obligation to act with expedience.

The Fair Chance Housing ordinance would prevent landlords from screening applicants based on criminal convictions; arrests that did not lead to a conviction; convictions that have been expunged, vacated or sealed; juvenile records; or status of a juvenile tenant on the sex offender registry. The bill also prohibits the use of advertising language that categorically excludes people with arrests or conviction records. The legislation does not apply to people registered as sex offenders who committed their crime as an adult. In addition, the legislation will not go into effect for 150 days after signing in order to support a new Fair Housing Home Program in which the City will help landlords learn how they can implement practices that will affirmatively further fair housing by reducing racial and other biases in tenant selection.

Councilmember Herbold said, “Landlords will still be able to screen applicants based on employment, credit scores, income ratios, or other criteria to ensure people will be good tenants.  They’ll merely be unable to use criminal history when considering applicants, something no study has shown affects a person’s ability to successfully be a good neighbor or tenant.  I hope my colleagues will join me in supporting this legislation when it comes to Full Council this Monday.”

The legislation recommended by committee today was developed collaboratively over the past year through a stakeholder process that included renters, landlords, advocates, the Office of Mayor Ed Murray, and the Seattle Office for Civil Rights. The bill was considered in Councilmember Herbold’s Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development and Arts Committee over 4 meetings, including a stakeholder discussion and an evening forum highlighting feedback from formerly incarcerated people, tenant advocacy organizations, and the Rental Housing Association.

Full Council is scheduled to consider the legislation this Monday, August 14 at 2 p.m. in City Council Chambers.

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