Criminal background screening in affordable housing units in Austin, Texas
Moore, Maggie Johnson
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Since the 1970s the number of individuals with involvement in the criminal justice system has increased rapidly. Here in Texas, this number is alarmingly high. With over 5,000 individuals being released from correctional facilities in Travis County alone in 2007, this issue is very relevant to the Austin community. Current happenings in the city revolving around a ‘Ban the Box’ policy for employment have begun a momentum to look at the necessity of criminal background screenings to judge an applicant’s ability to be a good employee. This along with Austin Mayor Steve Adler’s recent 2015 proposition to effectively end veteran homelessness, have set the stage to create programs to aid people with criminal records obtain housing. Obtaining housing is increasingly difficult in Austin not only for people with criminal records. The price of housing has increased dramatically for both renters and owners making housing unaffordable for much of the population. This trend, coupled with criminal background screening practices, makes finding housing very difficult for many individuals. The city has multiple programs in place to incentivize the development of affordable housing through density bonuses and expedited reviews. These programs have led to a large number of affordable units scattered throughout the city; however, these units, like many across Austin, often have criminal background screenings practices that are overly broad and make housing unattainable for many individuals. A number of organizations across the country have created a series of best practices for criminal background screening that deconstruct stigmas regarding applicants with criminal backgrounds. If these practices were to be applied in Austin, especially to the current stock of affordable housing, it would create more opportunity and choice for applicants across the city to find housing.