Join us on March 22nd for Home Court 30, pitting the Hill’s Angels from Capitol Hill against Georgetown Law’s Hoya Lawyas, to benefit the Legal Clinic’s work to forge a more just and inclusive DC.
The Bowser Administration has proposed amendments to the Homeless Services Reform Act that would impose upon homeless families in DC stricter standards for proving their residency and eligibility for live-saving shelter. We are concerned that the proposal will impose barriers that could prevent DC’s most vulnerable families from accessing desperately needed shelter. Set out below is a letter to the DC Council from the Legal Clinic and a number of our colleagues in the provider and advocacy community, urging the Council to provide an adequate opportunity for community input about what the impact of these changes will be. We hope you’ll join us in calling on the Council not to move the legislation forward on an emergency basis.
On July 11th, the DC Council’s Committee on the Judiciary held a public hearing on Bill 21-0706, the “Fair Criminal Record Screening for Housing Act of 2016 (the “Bill”).” Introduced by Councilmembers McDuffie and Bonds in April of this year and cosponsored by 10 members, the Bill aims to fight discrimination against housing applicants with criminal records. In particular, it aims to preclude housing providers from requiring applicants to disclose their criminal history before a conditional offer has been made and it limits the types of accusations and convictions that can be used to deny housing to an applicant. The Bill is an extension of the “Fair Criminal Record Screening Act of 2014” (also known as “Ban the Box”) which restricts the ability of employers to inquire about and use criminal records to deny applicants employment opportunities. For so many, having a criminal history poses a substantial barrier in obtaining housing, often regardless of the type of offense, the amount of time that has passed since the conviction, or even whether an individual was ultimately convicted. That criminal history can be used to deny housing to an individual perpetuates the damaging racial and socioeconomic discrimination so deeply rooted in our criminal justice system. At the hearing, a number of witnesses presented heartbreaking accounts of the hardships they experienced in seeking housing upon reentry. One woman shared that after being arrested for defending herself, she was turned away from temporary housing before the case had even gone to court. Another woman discussed relapsing after being repeatedly denied housing due to her criminal record and, despite her determined efforts to recover from her addiction and find housing, revealed that she is still homeless today. We have heard countless stories from our own clients’ frustrating application denials. One of our clients could not find someone to rent to her because of a 20-year-old solicitation conviction. Since the conviction, she had raised a family and developed a disability. Unable to find housing, she died in a homeless shelter. Like several of the other advocates testifying, we presented recommendations to further strengthen the Bill in its efforts to confront this pervasive issue. Specifically, we encourage the DC Council to expand the Bill to also cover considerations of rental and credit history, which present comparable discriminatory issues and are often used as a proxy for criminal screenings. In addition, we call for the Bill’s language to be tightened to better adhere to the federal guidance on fair housing compliance, for example, by limiting the time period and types of offenses that can be considered. Another key amendment to the Bill would require landlords to notify tenants of the reason for their denial and would provide stronger...
The following is Legal Clinic testimony delivered by Amber Harding on Friday, April 29th before the DC Council’s Committee of the Whole at its Budget Oversight Hearing for FY17. The Legal Clinic’s budgest testimony before the DC Council’s Committee on Health and Human Services and Committee on Housing and Community Development can be found here and here, respectively.
“More than 700 low-income residents shared their views about legal needs and community challenges, as part of the DC Consortium of Legal Services Providers’ Community Listening Project. Read more here.”
On March 17th, the DC Council held a public hearing on bill 21-620, Homeward DC Omnibus Approval of Facilities Plan for Short-Term Housing for Persons Experiencing Homelessness Act of 2016, better known as Mayor Bowser’s Plan to Close DC General Family Shelter. Eighty-six witnesses, in addition to the Bowser Administration, testified about the plan. That testimony can be found here. There was broad agreement that DC General is not an appopriate site for sheltering families, and most witnesses supported, at least in theory, the idea of opening smaller shelters in neighborhoods around the city. Disagreement comes over the details of the plan, including the cost and the specific locations. The Legal Clinic supports Mayor Bowser’s efforts, except for the Ward 5 location. Because of the environmental hazards associated with that site, we join with many of our colleagues in the advocacy community, along with Ward 5 neighbors, who oppose the site out of concern for the safety and well-being of the families who would be sheltered there. Further detail is provided in the testimony that Legal Clinic attorney Amber Harding presented at last week’s hearing, which is set out below.