Press Release August 12, 2020 from the Vera Institute of Justice:
NEW YORK – Today, the Vera Institute of Justice (Vera), with support from the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), announced the expansion of their Opening Doors to Public Housing Initiative, a national project that changes restrictive public housing admissions policies and reduces barriers to safe community reentry for incarcerated people after release from prison or jail. Affordability, restrictive housing policies, lack of employment and credit history, and the stigma of having a criminal conviction are some of the obstacles justice impacted people face. Admissions criteria in much of the country’s public housing restricts people with convictions either from moving back in with family members or obtaining their own housing.
Sites selected for the initiative’s expansion through a competitive application process include the Burlington Housing Authority (NC), the Allegheny County Housing Authority (Pennsylvania), the Detroit Housing Commission (Michigan) and the Winnebago County Housing Authority (Illinois). The sites, which vary in geography, number and types of units managed, metropolitan population and resident diversity, have all demonstrated a commitment to partnering with local law enforcement and other system stakeholders.
“Individuals and families who’ve been targeted and impacted by the justice system, disproportionately Black and brown people, face compounded systemic obstacles that make reentry an uphill battle. Policies that affirm equitable access to housing are crucial,” said Margaret diZerega, acting director of Vera’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections. “We look forward to working with this new cohort of housing authorities and their partners on specific objectives to change their policies and create reentry programs. Together we’ll help strengthen our communities and improve opportunities for people impacted by the justice system.”
The sites will receive up to 12 months of technical assistance to:
Safely increase access to housing for people with conviction histories or juvenile records to improve reentry outcomes and reduce recidivism rates;
Improve the safety of public housing and surrounding communities using reentry housing strategies; and
Promote collaboration between public housing authorities, law enforcement agencies and other criminal justice stakeholders to effectively reduce crime and improve reentry outcomes for people leaving prisons and jails.
Since 2017, the Open Doors to Public Housing Initiative has worked with public housing authorities, community supervision agencies and reentry service providers to promote family reunification and successful reentry outcomes for formerly incarcerated people. The new sites join a growing cadre of public housing authorities partnering with Vera on similar reforms, including Asheville (North Carolina), New Orleans, New York City, Providence (Rhode Island), Springfield (Massachusetts), Tacoma (Washington) and five housing authorities in California.
Statements of Support:
“Access to safe and affordable housing is critical for people in reentry and, with that foundation, people can also access services and supports they are interested in. We look forward to working with the Allegheny County Housing Authority to support the members of our community and help create these opportunities for success.”
— Marc Cherna, Director of the Allegheny County Department of Human Services (Pennsylvania)
“Increasing access to public housing for formerly incarcerated people and those with conviction histories will mean that we can better serve our communities by reuniting families and improving overall public safety. In collaboration with the Detroit Housing Commission, their community partners, and the Vera Institute, the Michigan Department of Corrections is committed to improving reentry outcomes through housing solutions.”
— Heidi Washington, Director of the Michigan Department of Corrections
“It is so important to support and hear the needs of our residents and applicants. This absolutely means providing opportunities for people in reentry to return to their homes or create new ones. With Vera’s technical assistance, we will further expand the work we do to create reentry and housing successes, through policy and programmatic changes.”
— Alan Zais, Executive Director of the Winnebago County Housing Authority (Illinois)
“As a reentry service provider, working directly with people who were formerly incarcerated and are seeking new opportunities, Benevolence Farm knows how admission to public housing can change a person and family’s life. As an existing partner of the Burlington Housing Authority, we will support the work they do as a part of the initiative to serve those impacted by the justice system and their families.”
— Kristen Powers, Executive Director Benevolence Farm in Burlington, North Carolina