Tuesday, August 18, 2015

What I Shared at United Way’s Speed Networking Event: Housing Folks with a Criminal Background is about to Become a Lot Easier in Texas

Today I participated in a really cool networking event at United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, “Chat. Connect. Repeat. Speed Networking Event.” The theme for the event was “Referral Guide: Criminal History Backgrounds”. I got to meet some great providers, who are doing excellent work in this area. We each were able to share what each of our organizations do, and how we can mutually learn how to help each other in this area.
Carol Lucky, CEO of Child and Family Guidance Centers, at Chat. Connect. Repeat. (Picture courtesy of United Way of Metropolitan Dallas)
So, first I shared what we do: MDHA leads the development of an effective homeless response system that will make the experience of homelessness in Dallas and Collin Counties rare, brief, and non-recurring.

Then I shared just two system level items we are working on to help with folks’ reentry into society, after coming out of prison. I told them about HB 1510. Here is the summary of this important bill from the Texas Legislature Website:

House Bill 1510 amends the Property Code to establish that a cause of action does not accrue against a landlord or a landlord's manager or agent solely for leasing a dwelling to a tenant with a criminal record. The bill does not preclude a cause of action for negligence in leasing if the tenant was convicted of certain more serious offenses or is subject to sex offender registration and the landlord, manager, or agent knew or should have known of the conviction or adjudication.

Let’s “translate” that into English (with the obvious disclaimer, that I am NOT an attorney, and so none of this should be construed as legal advice). As Calvin Coolidge famously said, the business of the American People is business. And the business of business is to make money. Unfortunately, a corollary to that, is that folks do not want to get sued out of business. So, my business may be to rent out my apartments. However, if I think that if I rent to you, I could get sued, guess who I will not be renting an apartment to? You.

Why might I get sued? Well, say you have a criminal background, and I rent you an apartment. Then you beat up your neighbor. Your neighbor, in our litigious society, might claim that I was negligent simply for renting you the apartment, and I could get sued. Makes sense, right?

Well, no, not really. The facts do not bear out such a concern. As the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition argued in advocating for this legislation, studies have actually shown that, “leasing property to someone with a criminal history who meets the application criteria actually serves to decrease the risk that he or she will commit a new offense… Housing stability has been identified as one of the most critical factors in preventing recidivism and parole violation…”  So, what HB1510 does is remove the danger of that type of lawsuit. Property owners will no longer have to face the danger of a lawsuit, simply for renting property to someone with a criminal history (with some obvious exclusions). This law goes into effect on 1/16/16.

Now, getting the law passed is just the start. Now, we need to educate everyone, landlords, social service providers (especially front line case workers) and consumers about this. The beauty of this is that this is a system change, that requires little if any investment. We don’t need another costly program or complicated grant to use this law to decrease homelessness. We just need to increase knowledge across the system. 

What else did I share with the folks I met with today? Well, we’ve gone a little long, so in the next blog post I will tell you all about that.

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