The Vicious Cycle of Incarceration and Homelessness

The 2022 Florida Legislative Session

A homeless man sleeps on the street with a sign saying “Once I was like you.”

Housing is absolutely essential for the successful reentry of every returning citizen. The truth is, returning citizens who obtain stable housing are two times less likely to reoffend. Not having access to attainable housing reduces access to healthcare services. It makes it even harder to secure a decent job. After all, you’re gonna need an address for that application you’re filling out. In addition, you may not be able to even participate in educational programs if you don’t have permanent housing.

Beyond reentry, it’s innate for human beings to want, need, and seek shelter. We all need a roof over our heads. Preferably our own. It’s no different for returning citizens.

People with past felony convictions face a number of challenges including lack of availability and affordability in housing. The very sad but true statistics are that formerly incarcerated people are nearly 10 times more likely to experience homelessness than other members of the general public.

With housing for returning citizens being both so essential and difficult to access, it’s important to figure out why these individuals and their families face barriers to housing. The reality is that in many cases, it’s not a person’s criminal history per se that keeps them from getting an apartment. The real issue is one much more related to self-interest, with reasoning grounded in unsubstantiated fear. That reason is liability.

One of the main reasons landlords are less willing to rent to returning citizens is concerns about liability. They think returning citizen tenants are a potential lawsuit, hiding around a very thin corner, just waiting to happen. From this view, landlords or property owners perceive returning citizens as a costly risk, and so they deny them housing.

The problem is, this perception is an assumption based only on one aspect of a person’s past, often no matter how long ago the offense may have occurred or what the offense was. It also has less to do with public safety than you might think. In the employment sphere, the main reason returning citizens are denied opportunity is liability, even more so than concerns about safety or a desire to prevent future criminal activity. We see the same concern in housing.

If liability is the reason why so many law-abiding, rehabilitated, striving returning citizens do not have access to housing, then it hardly seems an insurmountable issue. Wouldn’t you agree?

The State of Texas sure did.

In 2017, Texas lawmakers passed a bill on this very issue. Texas Property Code Section 92.025 provides that a tenant cannot sue a landlord solely for leasing to a tenant convicted of, arrested for, or placed on deferred adjudication for an offense.

Wow. In one of the United States’ most conservative states, that has generally been hard on people with past felony convictions, this legislation passed? That tells me a similar approach tailored to our state could be a viable option this legislative session as well. Such a measure could garner bipartisan support and be the first of several steps towards removing barriers in housing for returning citizens.

As a matter of fact, the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition has taken that first step. Working with Senator Randolph Bracy, we have introduced Senate Bill 1732: Negligent Leasing Liability in the Florida Senate.

The bill is similar to the legislation passed in Texas. It would lay out that a landlord or the manager or agent of a landlord cannot be held liable solely for leasing a housing unit to a tenant convicted or found guilty of a criminal offense, except for under specific circumstances. Specifically, the offense must have been for certain offenses, such as abuse or burglary, and the landlord, manager, or agent knew or should have reasonably known of the conviction or determination of guilt.

Senate Bill 1732 would remove a stagnating barrier for landlords and returning citizens alike, giving landlords broader protection from liability and more freedom to rent to whomever they choose and returning citizens more opportunity to find housing. When barriers are broken down, everyone in our community benefits.

If you support the passage of this important bill, call your state senator or state representative and express your support for this housing initiative — Senate Bill 1732: Negligent Leasing Liability — and ask them to support the very same. Go so far as to state your support for this measure on social media. And encourage your friends and followers to support legislation and initiatives that bring down barriers to housing for returning citizens. You’ll help make our communities safer and stronger.

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The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition is committed to ending the disenfranchisement and discrimination against people with convictions

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Chasman Barnes

Chasman Barnes

Chasman is a Policy Professional, Advocate for Returning Citizens in Criminal and Social Justice Reform, TEDx Speaker, and sought after Communicator.

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