By Piper Hutchinson, LSU Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE–A Senate committee shot down a bill Wednesday that would have made it easier for formerly incarcerated people to access housing.
House Bill 1063, sponsored by Rep. Matthew Willard, D-New Orleans, would have amended the Louisiana Equal Housing Opportunity Act to require housing providers to disclose whether criminal history is considered as a basis for eligibility.
The bill also would have protected property owners and employees of housing providers from liability stemming from a decision to rent to somebody with a criminal record.
The bill had already passed the House on a 56-40 vote. But it failed Wednesday in the Senate Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection and International Affairs on a party-line vote, with three Republicans against it and two Democrats for it.
“Nearly half of our population in this state have some form of a criminal record,” Willard said. “A lot of the housing application forms essentially screened formerly incarcerated people out of the housing process. And what that does is, really, it exacerbates our homeless population.”
Willard argued that the money that the state spends to rehabilitate prisoners is meaningless if people cannot get housing or employment upon their release.
Sens. Mark Abraham of Lake Charles, Stewart Cathey Jr. of Monroe and Jay Morris of Monroe, all Republicans, voted against the bill. Voting for it were Democratic Sens. Cleo Fields of Baton Rouge and Jimmy Harris of New Orleans.
Formerly incarcerated people are about 10 times more likely to be homeless than the general population. Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the country.
Maxwell Ciardullo, an advocate with the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center, pointed to lawsuits against tenant screening services that attribute criminal records to unrelated individuals with the same name, causing the applicants to lose out on housing.
While the bill originally required landlords to consider the documentation submitted by applicants, Ciardullo pointed out that those provisions were amended out.
“This doesn’t require the apartment owner to consider that documentation, doesn’t require them to make a decision any differently,” Ciardullo said. “It doesn’t require them to change their admitting practices at all.”
Amelia Herrera, an advocate with Voice of the Experienced, spoke about her experience trying to get housing after being incarcerated.
Herrera said that even though charges against her were eventually dropped, she was homeless for four months.
“Something is better than nothing when you’re fighting for a roof over your head and your families,” Herrera said.
The bill was opposed by the Louisiana REALTORS Association.
“The failure to post a disclosure of this nature should not rise to the level of a discriminatory housing practice for which our members could be exposed to liability,” Kim Holloway, a realtor representing the organization said.
Angela O’Byrne, a real estate developer from New Orleans, argued that the bill does not burden her.
“All I have to do under this current bill is add a sentence to my application saying that applicants can provide additional information about a criminal record,” O’Byrne said. “I can’t imagine why anyone would be opposed to that. It doesn’t cost me any money or time, and it provides me more information.”