Should L.A. County lift ban so parolees can live in public housing?

L.A. County considers easing criminal background screen for public-housing programs

Los Angeles County officials are considering easing restrictions that bar people with criminal records from housing assistance programs.

The county Housing Authority's standards are stricter than federal guidelines and also stricter than the city of Los Angeles when it comes to screening out applicants based on their criminal records.

The county rejects applicants who are on probation or parole, which Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl argued “prevents family reunification and integration back into community even though concerns about criminal behavior are mitigated by the fact that these individuals are under the scrutiny of a law enforcement agency.”

The two supervisors want to remove the restriction on people on parole and probation, reduce the time period the agency would consider for drug offenses and develop new guidelines for determining which types of offenses might pose a threat to neighbors.

The board was slated to consider the proposal Tuesday but postponed it at the request of Supervisor Hilda Solis, who said she needed more time to hear from people in her district.

"This is a very delicate issue in my district," she said. "Those who live in public housing have few choices. Those seeking to enter public housing have perhaps fewer choices. We need to balance the needs of these vulnerable members of our community."

Advocates and former offenders gave emotional testimony in favor of the proposal. Susan Burton, executive director of A New Way of Life Reentry Project, which helps women coming out of prison, told the board that in many cases ex-offenders "are subjected to what is in effect a life sentence."

"We restrict their ability to vote, we limit their access to services, we constrain their opportunities of employment, and then we act surprised that they end up back in prison," she said.

Burton's group is working on a program with the city of Los Angeles that reunites ex-offenders with families living in Section 8 housing, but the county does not take part in the program.

Housing Authority director Sean Rogan said he could not comment on the potential effects of easing the criminal background restrictions until he sees the final language of the proposal.

"Potentially you may be able to serve more homeless, potentially you may be able to have some families reunited without the parole and probation requirement, but I want to see the policy in its final form," he said.

The Housing Authority provides Section 8 assistance to 23,180 households with an additional  42,883 on the waiting list.  It also has 2,962 public housing units with a waiting list of 39,363.

Follow Abby Sewell on Twitter at @sewella for more county news.

 

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