Public Housing Authorities determine many of their admissions and occupancy policies for ex-offenders. While Public Housing Authorities can choose to ban ex-offenders from participating in public housing and Section 8 programs, it is not federal policy to do so. In many circumstances, formerly incarcerated people should not be denied access.
On January 5, 2011, former Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan, who served under former President Barack Obama, reminded reentry council members that “this is an Administration that believes in the importance of second chances.” At HUD, he said, “Part of that support means helping ex-offenders gain access to one of the most fundamental building blocks of a stable life—a place to live.”
There are only two convictions for which a Public Housing Authorities must prohibit admission. They are:
- If any member of the household is subject to a lifetime registration requirement under a State sex offender registration program;
- If any household member has ever been convicted of drug-related criminal activity for manufacture or production of methamphetamine on the premises of federally assisted housing.
Public Housing Authorities must also prohibit admission of an applicant—for three years from the date of eviction—if a household member has been evicted from federally assisted housing for drug-related criminal activity.
Public Housing Authorities must establish standards which prohibit admission if they determine that any household member is currently engaged in illegal use of a drug. Public Housing Authorities must also establish standards which prohibit admission if they determine that there is reasonable cause to believe that a household member’s illegal drug use or a pattern of illegal drug use may threaten the health, safety, or right to peaceful enjoyment of the premises by other residents.
In such cases, Public Housing Authorities retain their discretion to consider the circumstances. They may admit households if they determine that the evicted household member who engaged in drug-related criminal activity has successfully completed a supervised drug rehabilitation program, such as those supervised by drug courts, or that the circumstances leading to eviction no longer exist (24 CFR 5.854).
Public Housing Authorities must formally allow all applicants to appeal a denial for housing, giving the applicant an opportunity to present evidence of positive change since the time of incarceration.
Working within the boundaries of such regulations, many Public Housing Authorities have established admissions and occupancy policies that have promoted reuniting families in supportive communities and using stable housing as a platform for improving quality of life.