Community Members Fill Seattle City Hall to Demand an End to Racially Discriminatory Tenant Screening Practices
Over 100 community members filled Seattle City Hall on Thursday for a conversation on the use of criminal background checks in tenant screening. Roughly 60 signed up to testify, the vast majority of whom demanded an end to the discrimination that people with criminal records face when seeking housing.
Race equity and homelessness were central to the debate. In the wake of mass incarceration and the New Jim Crow, this practice disproportionately impacts communities of color and other marginalized communities, resulting in racialized segregation.
"Criminal background checks in housing seriously harm children, especially children of color," said Nick Straley, attorney at Columbia Legal Services. Although only 7 percent of the population in King County, African Americans make up 36 percent of the county's jail population.
"Native Americans are seven times more like to be homeless and have the second highest arrest ratio in King County," added Pamela Stearns, of the King County Native American Leadership Council. A representative from the Rental Housing Association explained that landlords are not responsible for the horrors of mass incarceration. "I know landlords didn't create mass incarceration, but don't perpetuate it," countered Augustine Cita, a program director at the Urban League who has faced these barriers in the past.
Advocates also highlighted the lack of evidence supporting the effectiveness of using criminal records to predict successful tenancy. Research shows that tenants who have criminal records are just as reliable as those who do not, if not more. "It is the City's duty to align with the facts rather than the stigma," says Straley. "As we struggle with increased rates of houselessness, it is essential we eradicate practices that continue to deny individuals stable housing."
In order to substantially improve access to housing in Seattle, the Fair Accessible Renting for Everyone (FARE) Coalition asks the council to consider the following improvements to the ordinance:
1. The Council should do away with the "lookback period" altogether. 2. The Council should not exempt any types of property from coverage under the ordinance, the exempted property being the only affordable housing for many people with records. 3. The City must do much more to assist people with records in finding and maintaining affordable housing. With the rising cost of housing and other barriers, this is simply not enough.