Posted at 12:48h
in STAND Media Coverage
Housing Authority Eliminates Ban of Ex-Offenders
July 5, 2016
by Katy Reckdahl
With the approval of new background check procedures, a criminal conviction won’t automatically disqualify a person from receiving public housing or voucher assistance in New Orleans.
Calvin “Cosmo” Russell would like to add his adult son to his apartment’s lease. That might be fairly simple if his son hadn’t been arrested three years ago for possession of five dime bags of weed, which ended in a conviction and a short prison term.
The arrest also gives Russell a certain urgency. Though his son is 26, Russell believes that he can help him successfully transition from young adulthood into decades of stable living.
Russell’s landlord has met Russell’s son and approved the lease change. But because Russell, 48, is disabled from an on-the-job injury, the Housing Authority of New Orleans helps him pay his monthly rent and must authorize any additions to his lease.
In the past, Russell would not have asked. “They wouldn’t let you add an ex-con to your Section 8 voucher,” he says. “They’d tell you ‘no’ flat-out.”
Even before his son’s arrest, Russell saw HANO’s screening policy as wrong-headed. Several years ago, he joined the grassroots group STAND with Dignity, which has spent four years working with other local advocates to push for a revised criminal records screening policy.
The revisions were particularly necessary in high-poverty New Orleans, where nearly 1 in 4 households receives rental assistance, and per-capita incarceration rates have long been the nation’s highest and disproportionately affect the city’s African-American community, says Cashauna Hill, executive director of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center. “Here in New Orleans, we’re at ground zero of the incarceration epidemic,” she says. “Folks are now agreeing that this level of disenfranchisement for people of color is not beneficial for anyone.”