clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Concessions, compromise, compassion mark fair housing fight for people with criminal histories

The Cook County Commission on Human Rights also agreed to study the effect of the amendment after it’s implemented to make sure those with criminal records aren’t being discriminated against when seeking housing.

Apartment buildings on the West Side of Chicago. File Photo.
Apartment buildings on the West Side of Chicago. File Photo.
Brian Jackson/For the Sun-Times

Property owners would no longer have to hold an apartment for a potential tenant challenging the use of past convictions in housing decisions, and landlords would have to consider whether disabilities such as physical impairment, mental illness or addiction played a role in a conviction.

Those are some of the new rules in a Cook County housing ordinance seeking to prohibit housing discrimination based on criminal records.

The Cook County Commission on Human Rights also agreed to study the effect of the amendment after it’s implemented to make sure those with criminal records aren’t being discriminated against when seeking housing.

The revisions to the rules for the “Just Housing” Ordinance, actually part of an amendment to the county’s housing ordinance, passed the commission Tuesday.

The reworked rules were the result of a compromise between the property owners and housing advocates, who have been working on the changes in the months since the ordinance originally passed in April.

A previous set of rules required property owners to hold an apartment while a potential tenant disputes the use of, or the information in, a criminal history in the housing application process. But property owners said that could cost them money by tying up property they could be selling or renting to someone else during the wait times.

The rules that passed the commission Tuesday remove that hold period, and dictate that within five days of obtaining the background check, a potential landlord has to deliver a copy of it to the applicant, in person, via certified mail or through email or text.

Once potential tenants receive that background check, they have five days to submit evidence to explain the information in the background check or dispute it. That response could include unofficial records, such as letters of recommendation, transcripts or photocopied background checks as part of the dispute process.

Ahmadou Drame, director of policy, advocacy and legislative affairs for the Safer Foundation — an advocacy group and provider of services to people with criminal records, — said giving up the hold period was a “tough concession for the coalition to make.”

“We recognize that folks who have signed on for the new set of rules were working in good faith,” Drame said. “They didn’t get everything they wanted, we didn’t get everything we wanted and seeing as we’re at the fifth iteration of these rules, we want to make sure we can get this done by the effective date.”

Drame said housing advocates don’t want to stop landlords from making money, but they do want to make sure people have a fair chance at obtaining housing.

Part of making sure people have a fair shot was also ensuring that the property owners consider whether a disability played a role in, or was a product of, a potential applicant’s conviction history. That language brings the ordinance more in line with the federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination based on disability.

Landlords took a wait-and-see attitude on the newest revisions.

Tom Benedetto, a legislative analyst for the Chicagoland Apartment Association, said in a statement his organization appreciates getting rid of the hold period, but must follow a process before taking an official stance on the proposed rules.

”The [association] shares the goal of helping justice-involved persons obtain housing to successfully transition back to society, and establishing meaningful housing policy solutions as part of the overall effort for criminal justice reform,” Benedetto said.

The human rights commission will now submit the amended rules to the county’s Rules and Administration Committee by the end of the day Wednesday. That committee is set to meet Nov. 20 and would need to approve the proposed rules so the full Cook County Board of Commissioners can pass them. The ordinance is currently set to go into effect at the end of the year.