Section 8 Vouchers for Gang Members?
Date:  01-14-2013

Will the Project Longevity Initiative and Housing Authority of New Haven make good on the promise to help former gang members start over?
The Housing Authority of New Haven, Connecticut recently announced that it will offer 20 Section 8 subsidized housing vouchers for people who have a criminal history.

This is not a new concept in New Haven, but is one that bucks the prevailing system of barring felons from receiving subsidized housing aid in most cities in the U.S. The New Haven Independent reports that the vouchers may go to former “gang-bangers.”

On November 27, 2012 Reentry Central reported that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder met with Connecticut politicians, service providers and community members in New Haven on that day to announce Connecticut’s new ant-violence initiative, Project Longevity.

Project Longevity targets gang members throughout Connecticut’s major cities. Based on what is commonly known as the “David Kennedy Model,” which has proven to successful in other cities, Project Longevity team members, which includes members from law enforcement agencies, community service providers and community leaders, “ call in” known gang members from several gangs and tell them that if any gang member commits an act of violence, the whole gang will be held accountable, and that gang members will be targeted for arrests on whatever crime they can be charged with, be it minor or major. The gang members will also be vigorously prosecuted by state and federal law enforcement agencies.

But, as Reentry Central reported, “... there is also another side to Project Longevity’s tough stance. Service providers will offer the gang members help in finding employment, housing, health care, and substance abuse and mental health treatment. This key component of the initiative cannot be overlooked when trying to reach a segment of society that is disenfranchised and has an “us versus them” mentality. Many young people join gangs because they believe that no one cares about them. Project Longevity tells them differently. The anti-gun violence initiative is telling gang members we know who you are, we value your life, and we are offering to help you. Ultimately, it will be the gang members’ decision whether to continue with their old life-style, or accept what Project Longevity is offering them, guaranteed imprisonment for years, maybe decades, or a fresh start toward a new life.” Making good on its promise to help find housing for those who walk away from the gang life-style, the Housing Authority of New Haven (HANH) will offer priority consideration for Section 8 vouchers to 20 individuals, or families, who promise to follow the terms and conditions, as set by Project Longevity and the HANH, according to the New Haven Independent.

In 2010, HANH initiated a pilot program that offered Section 8 Vouchers to 12 New Haven residents with a felony conviction. By most accounts, the pilot program has been successful. click here to go to website

In most cities and states, barriers to public housing or Section 8 vouchers exist, despite studies that found that obtaining secure and affordable housing has been shown to reduce recidivism. But, Section 8 vouchers awarded to “gang-bangers”? The recipients have to cut their connection with their former gang to receive a voucher. Cutting gang ties is the first step in proving that a better life-style is being sought. It can be a dangerous one, too, as most gangs believe that renouncing the gang is a grave sign of disrespect that can be punishable by death.

And, there is the Not in My Backyard (NIMY) problem. The Independent states that the vouchers will be awarded for apartments in the private sector, not in public housing projects. It is to be expected that neighborhood residents will fight having a (former) gang member living in their neighborhood, courtesy of a Section 8 voucher. There is also the possibility that a landlord will not want to rent an apartment to someone with a gang background. But, because this is such a new and controversial program, the HANH is sure to be extremely vigilant about vetting each candidate for a voucher, and in making sure the person selected obeys all of required rules and regulations. And, of course the police will know where each of the 20 individuals live, and will be sure to keep an eye on them to ascertain if they have truly given up their old gang, or criminal, life-style.

Source: New Haven Independent

Click here to read more.