Listen: The Impact of a Criminal Record on Housing

We spoke to people across the country living with a criminal record. In the third installment of our audio series, hear them describe in their own words the impact of a conviction on housing.

In the last installment of this series, we heard about the effect of a conviction on people’s mental health. And in the first installment we talked about the impact of a record on job opportunities. If you haven’t listened to those episodes, we encourage you to go back and listen first.

In this episode, we’ll be talking about the ways in which criminal records make it harder for folks living with convictions to access housing. Everyone should have the right to safe and affordable shelter—it’s a human right. This right includes folks living with a record. And yet, formerly incarcerated folks are 10 times more likely to be unhoused than the general public. If you’d like to listen to this whole episode in audio form, click the link above. If you’d prefer to read and watch clips, continue below.

Without stable housing, it’s difficult to do pretty much everything. If you don’t have a safe place to sleep or get ready in the morning, you  can’t show up for a job or a job interview as your best self. You might not have a place to store your food or belongings. It becomes more difficult to sustain relationships with your children or loved ones. Housing is one of the most important aspects of reintegration and recovery. Without it, folks living with records can’t move forward with their lives. Their criminal record blocks the door.

It’s much harder to find housing when you’re living with a conviction. Most landlords require background checks as part of their application process and will not rent to folks living with records, and that means housing options are limited.

Most of the time you apply for housing, you have to pay an application fee, and if you get denied, you don’t get that fee refunded. If you’re living with a record, you’re going to need to apply to many more places than you normally would have to. That means you are losing hundreds of dollars in the application process—way more money than you’d need to pay in application fees than people who aren’t living with records.  

Because of how difficult it is to find housing with a conviction, folks often accept housing that is unsafe for them and their families. When options are limited, landlords can rent apartments that have poor living conditions because they know folks with records often have no other place they can go.

For some, not being able to find housing means asking friends and family if they can live with them. It’s common for folks to depend on family for housing; 82% of folks who are leaving jail or prison live with family when they are released. But it can cause frustration and a sense of feeling like a burden. Especially because of the pandemic, unstable housing conditions have meant that more folks are losing their housing and face being unhoused.

We at Code for America believe that no one should be prevented from moving forward because of a past conviction. With policy and technology, we can create a world where convictions are cleared from someone’s record automatically—opening paths forward for millions of people. People whose records have been cleared wouldn’t have to worry about passing a background check for an apartment. They wouldn’t have to settle for unsafe housing conditions for themselves or their families. Safe and stable housing is one of the first things people need before they can focus on rebuilding the rest of their lives. With record clearance, we can ensure that folks with criminal records can access necessary housing.

Listening to and involving people with convictions in criminal legal system reform is essential to repairing past systemic wrongs and ensuring equity. With their input, we can ensure everyone has access to jobs, housing, education, and so much more. We can start the process of healing from the traumas of the criminal legal system. Together, we can all create a society that doesn’t define people only by their pasts.

Stay tuned for the next in our audio series about the effects of living with a conviction on your record. Next time, we’ll focus on why the current record clearance process doesn’t work and what we can do about it.

Related stories