Lawmaker revives effort to remove barrier blocking formerly incarcerated from housing

By: - March 13, 2023 8:42 am

The bill has many carveouts, for example, it wouldn’t apply to sex offenders or people convicted of violent crimes. (Getty Images)

When looking for a place to live this year, Ashley Gaddis, a formerly incarcerated woman, didn’t make it very far in the application process because of her criminal history. 

“I didn’t even get past the background check,” she said. “It was, ‘do I have a criminal record?’ Yes I do. The application didn’t go any further.”

She joined numerous women testifying in front of the Senate Government Affairs Committee last week who faced the same barriers to finding housing, whether it is an apartment or a weekly motel, after being released from prison.  

Democratic state Sen. Dina Neal, who is sponsoring legislation to make it easier for some formerly incarcerated individuals to find housing, said it’s a common story she has heard for years. 

Neal introduced Senate Bill 143, which was heard last week, to put some limits on when certain landlords can inquire about the criminal histories of people after they’ve been released from prison. 

“When I talk to them, it’s almost like they lost hope,” Neal said, referring to those formerly incarcerated. “We put them in a workforce program, we put them in a reentry program saying I want you to find a job, I want you to take care of yourself but the housing part I can’t fix for you.”

 In the 2021 session, Neal brought a similar bill, referred to as Fair Chance Housing, to ensure some formerly incarcerated individuals weren’t discriminated against when seeking housing. 

The legislation, which also emboldened the Nevada Equal Rights Commission to investigate discrimination claims, exempted single family homes, which upset housing justice and civil rights groups including the ACLU of Nevada. 

The bill passed both houses, but was vetoed by then-Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, who wrote in his veto message that the bill “would not apply to the vast majority of rentals and is therefore unlikely to make a significant difference in whether people with criminal convictions can obtain housing.”

Neal decided to reintroduce the legislation this session to address an ongoing problem.  

“What’s happening more often or not right now is some form of homelessness, and basically recidivating and returning back,” Neal said. ““For the mothers who are leaving prisons and seeking to reenter society, there are children we have to consider. When they can’t put a roof over their children’s head and a roof over their head, it creates another dynamic of how they survive.”

The lack of housing for formerly incarcerated people, she added, can open the door to recidivism. 

While SB 143 makes it unlawful to refuse to rent to an applicant “because of any arrest record, conviction record or record of criminal history,” there are still many carve outs. 

The bill completely omits people convicted of sex offenses. Neal said “as progressive as the legislature in 2023 is headed” the state isn’t ready to have a discussion around the rights of some people who have been convicted of sex crimes.

The legislation also doesn’t apply to people convicted of “violent crimes,” though Neal said the language needs to be cleaned up to make it less broad. 

One amendment introduced would allow for landlords to “inquire into a violent offense against a person within the past 5 years, unless the person has been exonerated or pardoned.”

“When I was speaking to people about recidivism, they were saying a person who served a 30 years sentence in prison for a murder was the least likely to recidivate if they were released from prison,” Neal said. “Currently you don’t have a look back period. You can go back 30 years in Nevada and say in 1977 you committed a crime. (A landlord can say) I’m not going to lease to you. Period.”

Similar to the bill in 2021, the legislation, if passed, also wouldn’t apply to single family homes. 

While many of the formerly incarcerated women said they supported the bill and called the legislation a step in the right direction, many were still confused by all the carve outs. 

In addition to reining in some discrimination in the application process, the bill also addresses Nevada Equal Rights Commissions ability to investigate complaints. 

The bill puts limits on income requirements of lease cosigners, which many formerly incarcerated people rely on in order to rent an apartment. Neal said she added after hearing some apartments were asking people to submit paperwork showing they made five times the amount of rent.

The Nevada Apartment Association was opposed, arguing the bill “ignores and diminishes the needs of the housing providers and their residents.” The Nevada Realtors Association spoke in neutral. 

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Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle

Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues.