THE BRONX — Two local legislators spoke Friday about new legislation to end discrimination against the formerly incarcerated at the New York City Housing Authority, called NYCHA “maybe the worst landlord in the United States” when it comes to reentry.
Rep. Ritchie Torres and Assemblyman Kenny Burgos held a news conference Friday at the Bronx River Houses, calling out the hurdle that access to affordable public housing can be to one’s reentry into society.
“We’ve come together to change that [hurdle] and bring true compassion to our justice system,” Burgos said.
Currently, NYCHA can deny a prospective tenant who is released from prison from getting an apartment — which can be a major factor in homelessness or reoffending.
About 25% of New Yorkers in the shelter population are formerly incarcerated, and 50% of those leaving New York state prisons and returning to New York City end up in a shelter.
“Common sense dictates that the solution to homelessness is a home,” Torres said.
The legislation would allow formerly incarcerated individuals to be eligible for public housing.
Christina Johnson is a formerly incarcerated mother who was set to move into a one-bedroom apartment with her son — until NYCHA deemed her ineligible because of her criminal record.
Johnson, who paid her first month’s rent and security deposit and signed forms for the unit, said she was humiliated. Ready to get back on her feet, she was knocked down.
The Fortune Society — a group that provides support to the formerly incarcerated — helped Johnson work through her issues with NYCHA, and months later, she’s now been deemed eligible
Johnson said since her release, she’s lived a crime-free life with her family, and is employed full time with the Fortune Society after beginning her relationship with the group as a client.
But it’s not just access to an apartment that NYCHA can deny; tenants can be evicted over an arrest, even without a conviction. Private housing tenants can only be evicted by a court, but public housing tenants don’t have those protections — or the due process, Torres said.
People can even be barred from visiting their family in NYCHA buildings.
“As a society, we preach rehabilitation, but we practice revenge — revenge that lasts a lifetime,” Torres said. This bill aims to change that.
Burgos introduced the bill in Albany this week, and said he’s seen lots of support.
Federal law dictates public housing may not be available to sex offenders, but leaves the rest up to the housing authority.
When it comes to NYCHA’s exclusion of formerly incarcerated individuals, Torres called it cruel, unusual, punitive and excessive, especially since NYCHA was founded to provide safe, affordable housing to every New Yorkers.
“These policies must be repealed,” he said.
NYCHA provided the following statement in response to the legislation:
“NYCHA’S reentry program is a nationally recognized model and the Authority does not terminate tenancies based solely on former incarceration. NYCHA recently finished a publish process reassessing our policies related to criminal justice and we are working on implementing policy changes that resulted from that process.”