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Jackson's 'fair chance' housing ordinance will prevent discrimination based on criminal record

Posted at 8:01 PM, Mar 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-10 20:01:07-05

JACKSON, Mich — Jackson's City Council has passed the Fair Chance Housing Ordinance, which will give additional protection to people with criminal records who are looking for housing within the city limits.

Jackson Mayor Derek Dobies believes it's a step in the right direction.

"I think it shows that we're a leader," said Dobies. "That again we are tolerantly exclusive, we are accepting, and we are going to protect people from discrimination and welcome people into our community and that includes returning citizens."

The ordinance, approved Tuesday night on a 5-1 vote, applies to landlords who own five units or more. It would not allow a housing provider to look into an applicant's conviction history or ask the the applicant to disclose their history during the screening process until a conditional lease agreement is made, committing the unit to that applicant as long as the applicant passes the conviction history review.

A landlord would not be able to refuse to rent to a person who has had an unresolved arrest or an arrest not resulting in conviction; a person who has completed a deferral program; a person who has had a conviction that has been dismissed, expunged or somehow invalidated; a person who had a conviction in the juvenile justice system or someone with a misdemeanor conviction that is more than five years old.

"It provides a process to allow landlords to be able to refuse housing to some of those convictions that may be violent, arson, any sort of specific property damage," Dobies said. "It also protects those of us from discrimination in the past and because of that it has created housing instability for a lot of folks across the state and in Jackson in particular."

Councilmember Laura Dwyer-Schlecte who was the dissenting voter made it clear she is in support of the Fair Chance Housing Ordinance but felt as though it was not ready to be signed into law just yet.

"What did we lose by having to wait two more weeks?" Dwyer-Schlecte asked.

"If we had done a work session with council to make sure everybody understood it, because unless you're in the housing industry you probably don't know the ramifications of the ordinance," Dwyer-Schlecte said.

If a landlord determines an applicant doesn't qualify based on your criminal history, they will be required to hold the property for seven days so the applicant can prove that their criminal history report was inaccurate. This means that a landlord may lose out on putting another person in their unit as there is no guarantee that an applicant will come back or pan out.

"If we really want to make good logical change, let's make it," Dwyer-Schlecte said. "Let's not make it just because it appears to be politically correct. Let's make good changes and work as best as we can."

Nation Outside, an advocacy organization for people who have been incarcerated, worked closely with the city to bring this ordinance to life and wants to continue bringing forth more change.

“I’m hoping the climate is right to have those big discussions," the organization's Jackson outreach coordinator Tony Gant said. "We just don’t want to lock people out. It’s just not good for the community when we lock people out of housing and jobs. I'm not sure what we expect people to do when we do that.”

According to city officials this will give returning citizens a chance for stable housing, which in turn allows them to give them job opportunities as well. The ordinance will take effect in 90 days.

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