Jackson Mayor introduces housing ordinance to protect justice-impacted families from discrimination

JACKSON — Nation Outside joined Jackson Mayor Derek Dobies and City Councilmember Will Forgrave on Feb. 8 as they introduced a Fair Chance Housing Ordinance to City Council. This ordinance would give people with a criminal record a chance to find safe and affordable housing within the city. If enacted, the Fair Chance Housing Ordinance would end the practice held by some landlords and rental management companies who automatically deny rental agreements to anyone who has a criminal record, no matter what a person’s arrest or conviction record shows or how old the information may be. If approved, Jackson would join several other cities in Michigan that have already enacted similar housing policies, including major metropolitan areas and smaller cities.

“Blanket housing denials based on prior convictions are inhumane, and will no longer be a part of the compassionate, equitable city we are building together,” said Dobies, who led the city’s efforts to pass internal ban-the-box policies for employment applications. “This policy will ensure housing stability as we underscore that fact we are a tolerant, inclusive city.”

“This policy is just common sense,” said Forgrave. “Landlords will still be able to perform background checks under this ordinance, they just won’t be able to discriminate against minor offenders or prospective tenants with offenses that have long passed.”

A number of Michigan cities already have Fair Chance Housing ordinances. Detroit enacted one in 2018, followed by Kalamazoo and Ypsilanti last year. Around the nation, other cities with similar ordinances include Washington D.C., Seattle and Minneapolis.

"Finding ways for people with criminal convictions to have access to secure housing leads to safe communities,” said Tony Gant, Jackson coordinator for Nation Outside, a nonprofit led by justice-impacted people working for criminal justice reform. “Formerly incarcerated people who have housing are more likely to be employed, more likely to seek further education, and less likely to engage in crime.”

The Fair Chance Housing ordinance under consideration in Jackson would require landlords and management companies to determine that an applicant is otherwise qualified to rent and make a conditional lease agreement before inquiring about an applicant’s criminal history. It would also be prohibited to reject an applicant for any of the following:

· an arrest that didn’t lead to a conviction;

· participating in a deferral program;

· an expunged offense;

· a juvenile conviction;

· misdemeanor convictions more than five years old;

· or civil infractions.

The proposed Jackson ordinance would allow property owners to deny leasing to people who are or have been:

· convicted of violent offenses;

· on the sex offender registry;

· people convicted of arson, metal theft, vandalism or damaging real property;

· people convicted of crimes against landlords, management agents or other tenants;

· or people who have a drug-related conviction in the past five years.

Mayor Dobies and City Councilmember Forgrave have asked city administration to place the Fair Chance Housing Ordinance on the agenda for the Feb. 23 city council meeting.


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