Sen. Kamala Harris is joining forces with New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to introduce legislation Wednesday that would curb the indiscriminate expulsion of families from public housing, the Daily News has learned.
The bill, called the “Fair Chance at Housing Act,” would require public housing authorities and operators of federally subsidized rentals to take what it describes as a “holistic” approach before evicting families when a member or a guest has some encounter with law enforcement.
The bill aims to help people who have gone to jail get back on their feet and rejoin their communities. It also requires federally backed landlords to take much greater care in evaluating the circumstances around what often amount to inconsequential brushes with the law by residents before they can force families out of homes.
“This legislation is one of many steps that need to be taken to repair our broken criminal justice system,” said Ocasio-Cortez.
“As our country continues working toward much-needed reform of our criminal justice system, I am proud to work with Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez to ensure formerly incarcerated individuals and their families have access to safe and affordable housing as they transition back into their community,” Harris said.
In an explanation of the legislation, the pair call the bill a “comprehensive reform of the eviction and screening policies for federal housing assistance.”
The measure could potentially be a boon to untold numbers of Americans who have been imprisoned on relatively minor charges in the long-running war on drugs, which has disproportionately harmed blacks and Latinos.
It would also compel landlords to more extensively document why they are evicting someone for alleged criminal violations, forcing them to look at whether an offense is really just a minor incident that shouldn’t result in punishment for an entire family.
Among its provisions are bans of “one-strike” eviction policies without broader review, “no-fault” policies than can lead to evictions for actions by a guest, and “suspicionless drug and alcohol testing” by owners. It would also raise evidence standards and require landlords to consider mitigating circumstances when evaluating tenants or potential tenants, and would include more options for people to appeal decisions.
“By requiring a higher standard of evidence and a more holistic review process, we are taking a significant step toward giving Americans a fair chance to succeed,” Harris said.
“The denial of basic necessities to formerly incarcerated people does not make our communities safer,” said Ocasio-Cortez. “Denying housing to those that have been formerly incarcerated increases recidivism. Today we are taking a step to make our communities safer.”
Normally, standalone pieces of legislation offered by newer members of Congress go nowhere, even with a pair of power players like Ocasio-Cortez and Harris. But the high profiles of the surging 2020 presidential candidate and the young social media maestro at least guarantee the idea will get an airing.
And in this case, the two well-known Democrats already have the attention of the Trump administration’s Housing Secretary Ben Carson.
Ocasio-Cortez asked him in a hearing in May whether he would favor the general goals of not pushing people out of housing because of minor incidents or infractions by others. He said he did. He also offered qualified support for the general idea requiring “case by case” reviews of infractions, rather than a blanket policy.
“I’m always in favor of more flexibility,” Carson said.
Ocasio-Cortez revealed the bill first for that hearing, but its formal introduction comes Wednesday.
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