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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

City Council Approves Fair Chance Housing Legislation

On Monday, the Seattle City Council, by a vote of 8-0, approved of the Fair Chance Housing ordinance by a 6-0 vote, the Fair Chance Housing ordinance. The legislation, sponsored by Councilmember Lisa Herbold and Council President Bruce Harrell, prohibits landlords from screening applicants based on past arrests or criminal convictions.

According to officials, the ordinance, which was developed to address barriers people with criminal backgrounds face when attempting to secure rental housing, would prevent landlords from screening applicants based on criminal convictions; arrests that did not lead to a conviction; convictions that have been expunged, vacated or sealed; juvenile records; or status of a juvenile tenant on the sex offender registry.

In addition, the legislation also prohibits the use of advertising language that categorically excludes people with arrests or conviction records. The legislation does not apply to people registered as sex offenders who committed their crime as an adult.

“The voices of people with lived experiences have been very important to the development and passage of this legislation,” said Herbold. “We all know that one in three people in Seattle have a criminal background.  But the reality is that, no matter how many facts and figures exist, what actually creates structural change is our collective awareness of these lived experiences. They are worth more than all the studies combined.  It takes incredible courage to speak in public about one’s experiences with the criminal justice system and I want to acknowledge and honor those who have.  You have humbled me.  We are here today because of your courage.”

According to Herbold, landlords will still be able to screen applicants based on employment, credit scores, income ratios, or other criteria to ensure people will be good tenants.  However, they will be unable to use criminal history when considering applicants, something no study has shown affects a person’s ability to successfully be a good neighbor or tenant.

“Today, largely because of the new access to data that historically has been less accessible, landlords can reject tenants because they’ve been arrested in the past seven years – not convicted – arrested.  For a criminal justice system that disproportionately arrests people of color, punishing someone who hasn’t been found guilty is a true injustice,” said Herbold.  “For those who have been convicted, the way I see it, you’ve paid your debt to society if you’ve served your time.  Blocking formerly incarcerated people from accessing stable housing or a job is an extrajudicial punishment and is also a recipe for recidivism and less safety for our communities.”

The legislation will not go into effect for 150 days after signing in order to support a new Fair Housing Home Program in which the City will help landlords learn how they can implement practices that will affirmatively further fair housing by reducing racial and other biases in tenant selection.

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