Last week, Mayor Eric Adams quietly supported stronger anti-discrimination protections when renting from the private market for New Yorkers with criminal records in his new housing agenda.

Burrowed in the 97-page document is a brief excerpt detailing initial plans to address the prison-to-shelter pipeline. It acknowledged frequent reports of housing providers denying applicants due to their criminal records and promised the mayor’s office would work with city council to create legislation to make it easier for those New Yorkers to find housing from landlords and private renting agencies.

It’s a first for Adams to publicly echo sentiments shared by proponents of the Fair Chance for Housing Act, which was shot down here in New York City before a vote last December. The bill, Int. 2047, aimed to ban housing providers from obtaining a renter’s arrest record or criminal history if they’re not relevant to protecting victims of domestic violence, sexual offenses or stalking. It was sponsored by 27 city council members and supported by Adams’ predecessor, Bill de Blasio.

With the 2023 budget passed, advocates believe such protections offer the city a low-cost method of reducing homelessness.

“[We have] members, and know a lot of people who are in shelter[s] and they’ve been found eligible for vouchers or for other support to get housing,” said Alison Wilkey of the Fair Chance for Housing Act Campaign. “But as they go out there and try [to] use the vouchers and find housing that just turned away over and over again, because they have a conviction record.”

According to Wilkey, there are roughly 750,000 New Yorkers with convictions. And 80% of them are Black or Brown. So while it’s illegal for property owners to deny housing based on race at a local, state and federal level, criminal history serves as a heavily racialized barrier for renters.

But it’s not just those with criminal histories finding it hard to rent in New York City. With “COVID-deal” leases expiring and rents rising, income discrimination in general becomes an issue. Last Tuesday, Adams held a press conference for his new housing agenda. The mayor did not mention the aforementioned protections for those with criminal histories, instead focusing on a simple message: house as many people as possible.

“If you say [I house] 30,000 [people] and you have 50,000 that are homeless, then what success is that—I got 20,000 people that are not [housed],” said Adams. “So I’m not at this magic number. I’m going to get as many people, in my four years, to get into housing as possible.”

Tandy Lau is a Report for America corps member and writes about public safety for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift today by visiting:

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