Councilmember Lisa Herbold (District 1, West Seattle & South Park) shared the following remarks as delivered today during deliberation by the Full Council of the Fair Chance Housing ordinance, which passed 8-0. The legislation, co-sponsored by Council President Bruce Harrell, prohibits landlords from screening applicants based on past arrests or criminal convictions:
“I first want to thank the FARE (Fair Accessible Renting for Everyone) coalition. The voices of people with lived experiences have been very important to the development and passage of this legislation. We all know that one in three people in Seattle have a criminal background. But the reality is that, no matter how many facts and figures exist, what actually creates structural change is our collective awareness of these lived experiences. They are worth more than all the studies combined. It takes incredible courage to speak in public about one’s experiences with the criminal justice system and I want to acknowledge and honor those who have. You have humbled me. We are here today because of your courage.
“The legislation before the Council 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 my committee at four meetings, including a stakeholder discussion and an evening forum highlighting feedback from formerly incarcerated people, tenant advocacy organizations, and the Rental Housing Association. Before that process, it was a recommendation of Mayor Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability (HALA) agenda in 2015 and even before that, in 2013, it was an issue that Councilmembers O’Brien and Licata had spearheaded with the Office of Housing – focusing on the housing providers that receive City funds to ensure they were removing barriers to housing funded with taxpayer dollars.
“The Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development, and Arts Committee last week recommended approval of the Fair Chance Housing ordinance by a 6-0 vote. The legislation, sponsored by myself and Council President Harrell, prohibits landlords from screening applicants based on past arrests or criminal convictions. 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. 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.
“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.
“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. 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 is an extrajudicial punishment not consistent with the rule of law. It is also a recipe for recidivism and less safety for our communities. Recidivism decreases significantly when people get housing. With housing a person is seven times less likely to reenter the criminal justice system.
“I would expect anyone in favor of a safer Seattle to support this bill.
“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 homeless people in Seattle 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.
“In addition, the legislation will not go into effect for nearly 6 months 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.
“I’ve heard concerns that with passage of this law, and others, small landlords have been and will continue to leave the business of operating rental housing. In a hot real estate market where property put on the market is quickly sold – sometimes to developers who charge higher rents after redevelopment – I share this concern. Using a combination of Rental Registration and Inspection program data, King County sales records, and taxpayer information, Central Staff will work to identify the number of properties that have sold over a defined time. We can then compare the taxpayer’s address with the property address to get a sense of if it is still a rental. And, we may be able to determine if an individual owner sold to a larger rental management company based on buyer and seller information. I hope to begin some of this work prior to the effective date of the ordinance. In addition, the City Auditor will be doing an assessment of the ordinance after its implementation as well.
“In closing, in addition to my thanks to the FARE coalition, and specifically people with experiences with the criminal justice system, I’d like to also thank Leslie Price with the Mayor’s Office, Erika Pablo, and Brenda Anibarro at the Seattle Office of Civil Rights, Asha Venkataraman of Council Central Staff, Andra Kranzler, formerly of my office, as well Councilmembers O’Brien and González and their staff whose leadership helped to make the legislation stronger.”