‘Just Housing Amendment’ helps end discrimination against ex-offenders

SHARE ‘Just Housing Amendment’ helps end discrimination against ex-offenders
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Rental buildings on South Homan Avenue in Chicago. | Sun-Times file photo

Recently, the Cook County Board of Commissioners passed the Just Housing Amendment to the Cook County Human Rights Ordinance, which protects people with arrest records from being denied housing solely based on their past.

As the chief sponsor, I am proud to be a part of ending discrimination against families who have been haunted by the vestiges of Jim Crow.

This legislation was thoroughly vetted with each county commissioner, as well as civil rights organizations, advocacy groups, housing attorneys and leaders of the Realtor community.

The Cook County Human Relations Committee also hosted a public hearing in which the public, including many property managers, aired their support and/or concerns.

In the 1st District, where I serve, that means the more than 3,000 people who return to the West Side and western Cook County after incarceration will not face bias in the application process as they seek a home for themselves and their families.

The law does not mandate arrest records be disregarded by landlords and property managers — just that these records cannot be the sole basis for denial of a tenant’s application.

The amendment does three things.

First, the law will require landlords to determine whether a person has met all other qualifications for the unit before considering that person’s criminal history. This helps to minimize unfair prejudice against a person because of a criminal record.

Second, the law would prohibit housing discrimination on the basis of arrest records, juvenile records, and sealed or expunged records.

Third, the law would allow housing providers to deny housing on the basis of convictions, but only if the housing provider first conducts an individual assessment of the person’s conviction history and considers factors such as the nature and severity of the offense, the time that has passed since then, and any evidence of rehabilitation.

In 2016, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recognized that because African Americans, Latinx, and people with disabilities are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system, housing providers who enforce blanket bans against individuals with criminal records risk violating the federal Fair Housing Act.

One in three people in the United States has a criminal record. In Cook County, this translates to over 1 million people who need housing protections. All this new law means is that landlords give them and their families a fair chance at housing.

The amendment does not prevent landlords and property managers from doing thorough credit and employment checks to determine if a client is qualified. Nor does it circumvent state law regarding registered sex offenders.

In the First District alone, nearly 80% of the women who return to their neighborhoods with an arrest record are mothers.

I am grateful to the 15 members of the Cook County Board who stood up for families and said no to discrimination against some of our most vulnerable residents. The Just Housing Amendment was the right thing to do.

Brandon Johnson is a Cook County commissioner.

SEND LETTERS TO letters@suntimes.com: Please include your neighborhood or hometown and a phone number for verification purposes.

Stop Chicago’s scooter pilot program 

Good news for Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot!

Mayor Rahm Emanuel gave her a chance for an easy early win when he launched the electric scooter pilot program.

Our city’s new leader can sweep into office and on Day One and cancel this nonsense. E-scooter programs have proved in countless cities to benefit very few while inconveniencing mostly everyone.

The “tell” that this program will be a nuisance is in the proposed limits of the program.

If it would be valuable, it would be offered in the Loop and on the North Side. Instead, mayor 1% is inflicting one last pain in the Chicago’s working-class neighborhoods. I guess it was too late to screw these folks with one last TIF, so this was the next best thing.

But it is time to look past the ineffective leadership of the past and turn our eyes to the future.

Let’s hope the new mayor does the right thing and cancels this stupid program.

Don Anderson, Oak Park 

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