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Today, dozens of faith leaders and advocates delivered an open letter to Mayor Adams and Speaker Adams urging passage of the Fair Chance for Housing Act. Introduced by Council Majority Leader Powers, this historic legislation removes barriers to housing by prohibiting landlords from discriminating against potential tenants on the basis of a criminal record. New York City’s faith leaders, including Pastor Zac Martin of the Recovery House of Worship and Pastor Carl Garrison of the Manhattan Church of Christ, called for justice through compassion, seeking an end to policies that promote the perpetual punishment of people who have served their sentences. This bill has overwhelming support in the Council with 31 co-sponsors, as well as the Comptroller, four Borough Presidents, and the Public Advocate. 

Under current law, landlords, brokers, and other housing providers have the right to deny housing to an individual on the basis of a criminal background, no matter how minor the offense or how long ago it occurred. As of 2019, there were nearly 750,000 New York City residents with a conviction history—nearly 11% of the city’s adult population. Of these, 80% are Black or Latinx; underscoring the disproportionate impact housing discrimination has on communities of color. 

Housing discrimination against previously incarcerated New Yorkers is exacerbating the City’s homelessness crisis, locking vulnerable people and their families out of housing opportunities.  Studies show that formerly incarcerated individuals are 10 times more likely to become homeless than the general public.  79 percent of formerly incarcerated people and their families reported being denied housing due to a criminal conviction, in a survey covering 14 states including New York. 

The Fair Chance for Housing Act will solve this crisis by making it illegal for landlords to deny someone housing simply because they have a conviction record. There is no evidence that people with conviction records are more likely to be bad or dangerous tenants. Landlords will still be able to use other, more reliable methods to assess potential tenants such as interviews and checking references and financial information. 

“In my faith tradition, Jesus says “the teachers of law & Pharisees bind up heavy loads on the backs of the people they are charged with helping, but don’t lift a finger to help them, do not do what they do for they don’t practice what they preach” I believe that those who oppose Fair Chance for Housing for whatever reason, are binding heavy loads on the backs of people who deserve housing, a second chance having already paid their debt to society,  and they are not lifting a single finger or even a stroke of a pen to help,” said Pastor Carl Garrison, Manhattan Church of Christ. 

“As a person of faith and faith leader in our city, it is my belief that every person as a divine image bearer, deserves dignity, respect and care. My faith also teaches that we all deserve second chances and so I believe this legislation is about our collective and moral obligation to provide the fair and overdue opportunity for everyone in our city to access housing,” said Pastor Zac Martin, Next Step Community Church

“We are all safer and better off when all of our fellow New Yorkers have a safe, stable place to call home,” says Andre Ward, Associate Vice President of the David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy at the Fortune Society.  “Yet for people with convictions, obtaining that safe and stable place to live, for themselves and their families, can be impossible due to discrimination.  There are 750,000 New Yorkers with convictions and 80% of them are Black or Latinx.  This is a matter of racial justice, family justice, and human rights.  Everyone deserves a home.  We call for passage of the Fair Chance for Housing Act.” 

“The idea of home (bayit) in Jewish thought, both as a place to settle and as a center for one’s identity is fundamental. A home – a place where you can shower, sleep, collect yourself, and store your belongings: all of this is essential to reentering society.  How can you get a job without an address? How can you show up for an interview if you can’t shower?  If NYC is serious about safety and if NYC is going to tie safety to incarceration and decarceration, this city must make it possible for people released from prison and jails to secure housing – public and private, ” said Rabbi Barat Ellman, Professor at Fordham University. 

“There is a myth that a social safety net exists in this country. In reality, it is largely a mirage. Housing is the one most important part of a person’s autonomy and security. Affordable housing is desperately needed by those who do not have a voice that can be heard by the people who have the power to help,” said Rabbi Jill Hausman, The Actors’ Temple.  

“The pathway to housing should be fair to everyone. Unfortunately, 750,000 people can be legally discriminated against for housing in New York City. Without stable housing, people and communities are not safe. We can not end homelessness without ending the discrimination and disparities in housing. The Fair Chance for Housing Act would not only make access to housing more equitable but it will unite families and enhance public safety. Passage of the Act is the right thing to do,” said Darren Mack, Co-Director at Freedom Agenda.

“Housing is a human right. Yet the collateral consequences of a criminal record keep thousands of New Yorkers languishing in shelters or couch surfing with friends. I know because I experienced homelessness while working and going to school full-time upon my own release from prison. If a person can meet all other background requirements to obtain stable housing, why are we perpetuating homelessness based on a person’s past criminal history – a history for which s/he has already served their sentence? Working at Exodus, I witness hard-working New Yorkers struggle daily with obtaining housing. The Fair Chance for Housing Act can change that. We must all fight to pass this smart legislation today, ” said Kandra Clark, Vice President of Policy & Strategy, Exodus Transitional Community. 

“Without a safe secure place to call home people with a justice-history languish in a place of constant and never-ending punishment. I am a man who has been out of prison for 5.5 years and has acquired an LMSW, a job paying 40 times the rent, with a 760 credit rating and because of a conviction 33 years ago, I cannot find a place to call home. When will my punishment end? A safe, affordable place to live is a human right and should never be a consequence of privilege or a happenstance of birth.” said Hilton N. Webb, Jr.


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