Where do we as a society expect ex felons to live?

As I know very little about this, I’m hoping that one of you might educate me on housing discrimination laws. My friend Paul Hickman, the founder of Urban Ashes, has an employee that has been looking for housing in Ypsilanti without much luck, and he seems to think that it might have something to do with the fact that he’s an ex felon. Is housing discrimination against ex felons legal? And, either way, what can he do about it?

Here, by way of context, is Paul’s text to me…. And, no, I don’t have any idea why he referred to me as “Mr. Mark.”

If you haven’t heard the episode of the Saturday Six Pack where I talked with Paul and Urban Ashes Human Relations and Operations Manager Calvin Evans, you should really check it out. It’s one thing to imagine what it might be like for someone returning to the world after decades in prison, but it’s another to hear someone like Calvin, who served 24 years in prison, share his firsthand experiences, and it really illustrates why the work being done by Urban Ashes is so vitally important.

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  1. Elizabeth C.
    Posted May 12, 2017 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    “HUD Seeks to End Housing Discrimination Against Ex-Offenders”


    HUD is finally addressing this but it will take a while. A lot of landlords use credit criteria that includes a background check with forgiveness after a certain amount of time. There are many apartment communities that don’t do background checks at all FYI. The best thing for someone to do is ask an apartment community what their credit criteria policies are. Private home rentals rarely require a background check. I agree if someone has paid their debt they should live like everyone else.

  2. Kristen Cuhran
    Posted May 12, 2017 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    We have a lot of information at the Fair Housing Center. We are also holding talks in May, June and July about the issue. I can send details.

  3. Kristen Cuhran
    Posted May 12, 2017 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    Here’s a start of information (but not the talks I was mentioning).


  4. Posted May 12, 2017 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Thank you Mark for writing about this. I guess when you asked me if it was cool to post my message to you, I should have reread it. I could have left out the expletive in the middle but it is really frustrating to see the folks that work for us day in and day out continue to be punished for a crime they have served their time for. All of our crew that did time were teens caught up in very bad environments that ultimately led them to prison time. None of my crew is asking for any special treatment or handouts. They all bust their butts more than almost anybody I have ever worked with. We have built a society that generates and perpetuates failure not just when we are children but even after we have done our time and paid our debt to society. The punishment continues creating hardships that all too often leave people no choice but to resort to doing whatever possible just to survive. In turn that leads to two things back to prison or dead. As a note… NONE of the places he has applied for living at have contacted me to get my take on this guy as an employee for 2 years at Urban Ashes. I would give him the absolute highest recommendation. Obviously, the knowledge and opinion on the character and responsibleness of this individual means zero when that FELONY box is checked off. What do we as a society expect our returning citizens to do when they cannot find housing or jobs because they continued to be punished for a crime they served their time for? And to top it all off, now the current AG has made it dead clear he is demanding the strictest possible sentences for any crime committed. Ugh! We need more work like what https://www.cut50.org is doing to end this vicious cycle of playground to prison to parole to prison pipeline.

  5. Lynne
    Posted May 12, 2017 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    I honestly think that once a person serves their time, their record should no longer be public.

  6. Dan Pritts
    Posted May 12, 2017 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    The answer, of course, is NIMBY.

  7. Jcp2
    Posted May 12, 2017 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    Hard to redact a public record, especially if it’s in the paper or interwebs.

  8. industry insider
    Posted May 12, 2017 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    Usually the rental verification companies don’t count felonies over 7 years unless they were violent crime like murder or rape. Unfortunately for those folks even HUD guidelines won’t be super sympathetic.

  9. industry insider
    Posted May 12, 2017 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    Also, there are a lot of organizations that rent apartments in the name of the church or org and then place people in them. It’s a work around that some apartments allow.

  10. Natalie Holbrook
    Posted May 12, 2017 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    I also think it is really helpful to have an ally/advocate be with a person when applying for housing. I’ve accompanied people through this process before and it worked. And, publicly calling out landlords who refuse to rent to people with felony convictions makes perfect sense to me.

  11. Posted May 12, 2017 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    Natalie, I was thinking of starting to do that as another Urban Ashes service… physically accompanying the individual. However, this is a serious pride thing to most. This may make them feel like a child and they are really really trying to prove them to society, having someone tag along to help them be validating is demeaning to many. We will see how it works.

    II… thanks will suggest that option as well.

    The real sad part about violent crimes often occur at a very young age, in the teens, and are often a heat of the moment crime when a bad decision is made by a very young mind. To me chronic petty crimes by adults are much much more an indication of ones character and danger to society than a one time, wrong place wrong time, heat of the moment violent crime by a child living in chronic generational poverty.

    Dan, to me the reality is that the whole community, state and country is our backyard.

    Thank you all for the thoughtful comments and recommendations. I greatly appreciate it. As I said this needs to be brought out into the light and addressed head on. We can no longer sweep it under the carpet and hope it goes away while our heads are stuck in the sand.

  12. Arika
    Posted May 12, 2017 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    Sometimes finding a private landlord and being up front about the felony can be helpful, but you have to sort of “come out” and I’m sure it’s not a great feeling. Paul I messaged you some ideas on LinkedIn.

  13. Kayla Mishler
    Posted May 12, 2017 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    If this person receives social security benefits, they should have a SOAR case manager who can aid in this too. There are a few places on washtenaw that are more likely to rent to people who have felonies related to drugs or that are violent.

  14. L.G.
    Posted May 12, 2017 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    It’s really at the discretion of the landlord. As long as what they do is across the board it’s perfectly ok. Meaning the policy is anyone with a felony 10 years or less will be disqualified. If they stay with that for everyone it’s within the limits of fair housing. Not fair, but legal. HUD is trying to change this, but most places will say 10 years free of time before consideration. The last place I managed was actually ex felony friendly. As long as they came in and were honest about their past it wouldn’t be an automatic no. But if you lie on your app that’s is a definite no.

  15. M
    Posted May 12, 2017 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    The number for the Fair Housing Center is 877-979-3247.

  16. Posted May 12, 2017 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    Again… thank you all for your input.

  17. ytown
    Posted May 13, 2017 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    I think all felons should live on Washington St in Ypsi. Let’s start there.

  18. Iron Lung Larson
    Posted May 13, 2017 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    I think that the radio show should come back.

  19. General Demitrious
    Posted May 13, 2017 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    Felony is pretty generic. Violent felony? Pattern of continuous felonious behavior? Also, people don’t normally get convicted of a felony on a first offense, unless there are some pretty severe extenuating circumstances.

    The “debt to society” thing is a myth. That is not why people are put behind bars, it is because they were preying on society at large. Your time served doesn’t pay anybody back for what you did. That said, if you have some good references, shown some effort at restitution, improved your education, or some other evidence of a life made good, that will carry some weight in almost every case. I have an obligation to keep my renters safe, and my properties respectable. I do background checks. If you have a rap sheet as long as my arm, or have EVER been convicted of sexual assault, you ain’t getting in.

    Fortunately, you can just go to any apartment on Laforge. They take anybody. Or you can have somebody who has not screwed up as badly as you fill out there application, and then become their roommate.

    I hear somebody on this site, sympathetic to the plight of convicts has a great big building that is mostly empty….

  20. Posted May 15, 2017 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    I wanted to reply to LG’s comment. Yes, tenant selection criteria are at a landlord’s discretion and LL’s can set their own guidelines. However, the new HUD Rule states that any policy enacted (such as the ten-year requirement you mentioned) could be challenged. And the burden of proof in this case would be on the housing provider. So they would have to have hard proof as to why a 10-year look-back no felony policy is necessary, compared to 5 years, 8 years, etc.
    Another important part of the new guidelines is that all prospective tenants with criminal history must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
    As has been mentioned, anyone who has been denied housing due to criminal background should call the Fair Housing Center. 877-979-FAIR
    Paul, I read your reply to Natalie. I hope that the loss of pride that you are surmising might happen by having folks (friends, family, social workers) go with a person to apply for housing is outweighed by the promise of housing, health, and stability. (I advocate for people a lot. I also know I also benefit from other people advocating for me. That’s true community, right?)

  21. Kristen Cuhran
    Posted May 17, 2017 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Fair Housing & Tenant Selection Webinar for housing providers: May 23, Noon (EST)


  22. kjc
    Posted May 17, 2017 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    “Also, people don’t normally get convicted of a felony on a first offense, unless there are some pretty severe extenuating circumstances.”

    you’re stupid.

  23. Lynne
    Posted May 17, 2017 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    severe extenuating circumstances = not white and/or impoverished, fwiw

  24. RhoWills
    Posted July 9, 2018 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    A family member (Texas) is being released at age 70, after 20 years in prison. He needs and wants to live with his 90 yr old mother in the old family home where he lived growing up, but it is right across the street from a school. We haven’t a clue where to turn for information and no one seems to know a thing and in less than a month he is being released. Does anyone have any advice?

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