Hartford Foundation Submits Testimony on Collateral Consequences of Criminal Records on Housing Opportunities

Read The Foundation's Testimony

On Tuesday, February 27, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving submitted testimony to the legislature’s Housing Committee on House Bill 5242, An Act Concerning the Collateral Consequences of Criminal Records on Housing Opportunities.

In its testimony the Foundation emphasized the fact that most people in Connecticut prisons eventually return to their communities and need access to basic supports to effectively reintegrate into the community, including stable housing, access to mental and physical health care services, food, and workforce training and job opportunities. Without access to stable, secure housing, people who have returned home from incarceration often find it difficult to secure and maintain employment and meet other basic needs.

As part of our efforts to dismantle structural racism and advance equitable social and economic mobility for Black and Latine residents of Greater Hartford, the Hartford Foundation seeks to increase stable employment that advances careers for adults and youth in our region who often are left behind. This commitment requires us to educate, train, and retain talent, including underserved and underrepresented populations, to meet the needs of employers more fully.

The Foundation’s efforts focus on increasing training and access to basic education that support completing high school and post-secondary opportunities that lead to hiring and retaining residents, with a focus on Black and Latine individuals. The data show significant barriers to employment, especially for men and women returning from prison and jail and opportunity youth disconnected from school and work.

The Hartford Foundation has supported this work for many years. We know that programs with public-private funding are better able to address the layers of need and sustain the work. Adequate public support is essential if we are to address housing, wraparound substance abuse counseling, and physical and mental health needs that data show are prevalent in youth and adult reentry populations. No one entity can do this work alone. The work requires strong partnerships.

Through our grantmaking and listening to community residents, the Hartford Foundation has seen and heard how essential access to basic human needs is throughout the Greater Hartford region in meeting the immediate challenges of residents . Our investments in supporting people returning from incarceration have shown that ensuring people’s access to these basic needs, are essential to rebuilding their lives.

The Foundation appreciates the provisions in House Bill 5242 that seek to balance landlord and tenant protections and to open housing options for people with criminal records, including federally assisted housing operated by housing authorities as well as housing managed by private landlords when the building has more than four units. We support the requirements that landlords provide notice to rental applicants when a criminal conviction arises and consider mitigating factors in reviewing the convictions of applicants, including the nature of the offense, circumstances, time since the conduct, age at the time, evidence of rehabilitation, employment status, and tenant history before and after the conviction. Housing providers covered by the legislation must provide applicants with at least five business day notice to respond and present relevant mitigating information regarding the conviction and evidence that the applicant would be a suitable tenant. Men and women returning from incarceration typically want to support themselves and their families in law-abiding ways. This bill provides an opportunity to demonstrate their progress and secure essential housing.

Reentry housing has been closely studied, including by the Commission on Equity and Opportunity, and a number of proposals have been presented. In 2018, Foundation staff participated in the Commission’s broad, multisector Reentry Working Group about housing options and barriers that Connecticut residents experience as they return to their communities after incarceration. In 2019, two bills were proposed that arose in part from the recommendations of the Reentry Working Group, which reflected thorough research and input from state and municipal agencies, advocates, nonprofits, and landlords. Like House Bill 5242, these two proposals sought to establish a defined "lookback period" for landlords conducting criminal background checks upon a prospective tenant, reflecting research showing that the likelihood of recidivism declines over time after individuals return from prison. Landlords could still access prospective tenants' criminal records for a set number of years after release. Lookback periods simply help ensure that returning citizens who do not reoffend years after their release get the second chances they deserve.

The Foundation is eager to partner with legislators, government partners, advocates, and businesses to eliminate barriers to employment and access to education support for returning citizens, including access to housing to ensure that all residents have an opportunity to participate in the workforce, achieve economic stability, and have opportunities to reach their potential, thrive and enhance Connecticut’s economy.