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Seattle mayor offers plan to make it easier for people with criminal pasts to find housing

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray takes a question at a news conference at City Hall Wednesday, June 14, 2017, in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray takes a question at a news conference at City Hall Wednesday, June 14, 2017, in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)
By Daniel Beekman Seattle Times

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has sent a proposal to the City Council aimed at reducing barriers to rental housing for people with criminal records.

The Fair Chance Housing ordinance would prevent landlords from screening prospective tenants based on criminal convictions more than two years old, arrests that didn’t lead to convictions, convictions that have been expunged, vacated or sealed and some other records.

“The growth in the number of Americans with criminal records has created a crisis of housing inaccessibility that is disproportionately felt by people of color,” Murray said in a statement Wednesday.

“Not only has our criminal justice system punished black Americans disproportionately, they continue to be punished by barriers to housing that cut off access to opportunity. Ensuring people have fair access to housing is about equity and about ensuring everyone has the ability contribute in our society, including getting a good job and raising a family.”

In Seattle, an estimated 173,000 people have an arrest or conviction, according to Murray.

All Home, which coordinates homelessness services across King County, says 1 in 5 people who leave prison soon become homeless.

The proposed ordinance also would prevent landlords from screening prospective tenants based on juvenile records.

The legislation would bar landlords from using language in advertisements that categorically excludes people with criminal histories and would require them to provide business justifications for rejecting applicants based on their criminal histories.

Buildings of four or fewer units where the owner lives on-site would be exempted.

The push for such an ordinance began in December 2015, when a group of local organizations led by Columbia Legal Services started a campaign called FARE – Fair Access to Renting for Everyone.

In January 2016, Murray convened a task force on the issue, including members from advocacy organizations and representatives from landlord and tenant groups.

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