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April is National Fair Housing Month, celebrating the passage of the Fair Housing Act more than fifty years ago. It continues to be the first and last line of defense against housing discrimination.
This landmark legislation prohibits discrimination against potential homebuyers and renters based on race, color, national origin, religion and gender. The Act was later amended to include protections for people with disabilities and families with children.
Now, Oregon wants to take it a step further with the passage of Senate Bill 291.
What is Senate Bill 291?
Possessing an old criminal record shouldn’t resign someone to a lifetime of housing instability.
SB 291 would prevent landlords from considering previous arrests if an applicant is successfully participating in a diversion program, such as CCC’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program. Our LEAD teams work in both Multnomah and Clackamas counties to help low-level drug offenders move toward recovery, find stability and avoid reoffending.
Additionally, SB 291 would prohibit landlords from rejecting applicants with criminal records outright. Instead, it would promote a whole-person approach where applicants can provide supplemental information about how their lives have changed since becoming involved with the justice system. Supplemental information might include letters of recommendation from employers and parole officers, program completion certificates, service awards or college class enrollment, and it will help landlords make more informed and humane decisions about applicants.
We know our communities are healthier and safer when people have access to stable housing. That’s why our transitional housing programs follow low-barrier screening criteria and are open to people with criminal records. Over the six to nine months that clients participate in these programs, they find employment, reconnect with family and receive medical and social services as needed to move forward in their lives.
But once individuals have graduated out of transitional housing, they face a new risk of homelessness.
Routine background checks often screen these very successful people out of permanent housing opportunities. In fact, access to housing is the number one challenge for people transitioning out of our housing programs and into market rate housing. Yet data show when someone has stable housing, their likelihood of returning to prison is cut by more than half.
Senate Bill 291 will now move to the Oregon Senate floor for a full vote. We want to thank the Governor’s Racial Justice Council for drafting this legislation and offer our appreciation to Senator Kayse Jama, whose support has been invaluable. Thanks also to the members of the Senate Housing and Development committee who voted “yes” on this critical housing reform legislation.
CCC supports all measures that remove barriers to creating healthy and stable housing options for our community. Join us during National Fair Housing Month in supporting SB 291.
CCC is advancing policies to end homelessness, improve health care access, increase economic justice, correct racial disparities and achieve greater alignment of the support systems our clients rely on.