Summary: Richmond's city council members passed an ordinance that disallows landlords from denying housing to people with criminal records. The city manager says staffing changes held up the implementation process for almost a year. Some housing advocates say that during that time, people in dire straits may have been denied housing unjustly.
Six housing activists enter Richmond City Manager Bill Lindsay’s office, notebooks at the ready, for a meeting that’s been almost a year in the making.
Among them is Tamisha Walker, of the Safe Return Project (SRP), a nonprofit that connects people with re-entry services. The SRP drafted the Fair Chance Access to Affordable Housing ordinance, with support from the Dellums Institute for Social Justice and Bay Area Legal Aid. It was largely the result of a 2011 report written by the SRP, which surveyed and researched the availability of the re-entry services in Richmond. The group compiled a list of recommendations based on its findings.
“Supportive housing” topped its list.
Walker says there are few housing options for people who are re-entering the community after incarceration, especially folks without a support system.
“[If] you have family who were already in housing that had stable housing then you could join their home,” Walker said. “That’s pretty much it. You’re either in a homeless shelter or couch hopping.”
Last year, Richmond’s City Council adopted the ordinance. It prohibits landlords who accept Section 8 vouchers or own HUD-subsidized properties from rejecting applicants based on criminal history alone.
But almost a year later, the implementation and community outreach strategy for this ordinance is just beginning.
The city manager’s office will draft and distribute outreach materials that will inform landlords and tenants about the kind of changes to expect once the ordinance is actualized.
According to Lindsay, staff turnover caused the delay in implementation. “When Mr. Jones left the city it was dropped,” Lindsay said referring to housing authority director Tim Jones, who vacated his position three months after the ordinance was passed.
“We don’t have a housing authority executive director right now,” he continued. “That’s why we need to do some focused outreach.”
Walker suggested including the outreach materials in the orientation packet for new Section 8 voucher holders receive. She was on Section 8 for 12 years before becoming a homeowner and she stressed the importance spreading knowledge about the new guidelines so people can uncertainty and anxiety.
“I was just kinda tip-toeing around the agency,” Walker said, of her time on Section 8.
“Hoping that one day they don’t find out that I have a conviction, ’cause you can lose your housing.”
Now, the goal is to educate all affected parties before the first quarterly report is written in March 2018. If everything goes smoothly, Walker, with help from Bay Area Legal Aid and the Dellums Institute, will look in to applying the ordinance to private landlords. For now, activists want to make sure that the outreach and thorough and focused.
“We wanna do something that’s specific to this ordinance,” said Margaretta Lin, an attorney with the Dellums institute. “We would want to outreach to the property managers, and nonprofit developers themselves.”
Lindsay’s hopes to develop and distribute educational materials by the beginning of 2018. Walker and her partners will organize forums to “reduce discomfort and answer any questions to prevent any false narratives” among landlords and property owners.
“Even though the rent is is high and it’s not going to get lower,” Walker said, talking about the possible evolution of this ordinance. “We really want to eliminate all extreme blanket bans on housing.”