Detroit City Council Member-at-Large Janeé Ayers and Mayor Mike Duggan celebrated the passage of the Councilmember’s Fair Chance Ordinance, which will require most rental housing in the City to follow a “Ban the Box” policy for returning citizens and covers everything from apartment complexes to single family homes.
Every month, nearly 200 former prisoners come back to Detroit and are faced with a choice: start on a new path or stay on the old one. Whether they choose a new path depends largely on the opportunities, or lack of opportunities, they see available to them. With a 75 percent recidivism rate, it’s clear the city has not been doing enough. To help address the issue, Ayers and the Detroit City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to pass the Fair Chance Housing Ordinance.
“When former prisoners return to the city they often have nowhere to go – no roof over their head or a place to lay their head at night,” said Councilmember Ayers. “Many have lost connections with friends and family, and even if they are fortunate enough to find jobs and afford rent, they are often turned away because of their previous record.”
The only rental units that will be exempted are those of small landlords with a portfolio of less than five units. A “Ban the Box” policy will prevent landlords from asking potential renters about their criminal background until the landlord has determined that the candidate is qualified to rent under all other phases of the application process.
“I commend the mayor and his administration for their support and work on this issue; my colleagues for voting unanimously to move this ordinance forward; the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and Michigan United for their lobbying efforts with this legislation; and all of our partners in the Returning Citizens’ Task Force for their tremendous leadership on this issue,” said Ayers.
How it works
The Fair Chance Ordinance will require most rental housing in the City to follow a “Ban the Box” policy for returning citizens and covers everything from apartment complexes to single family homes. The only rental units that will be exempted are those of small landlords with a portfolio of less than five units. A “Ban the Box” policy will prevent landlords from asking potential renters about their criminal background until the landlord has determined that the candidate is qualified to rent under all other phases of the application process.
Once this is determined, the landlord may investigate the applicant’s criminal history. If the applicant has a criminal record, they may be denied housing only for crimes relevant to the safety of other people or property, like violent crimes, crimes resulting in a lifetime registry on the sex offenders list, arson, etc; or for felonies committed within the past 10 years or resulting in imprisonment within the past five years. If the landlord wants to deny an applicant based on their criminal history, the landlord must allow the applicant to provide evidence of rehabilitation that would show they are a good candidate despite their criminal record. If an applicant feels they have been discriminated against under the ordinance, they will have the right to file a complaint with the City’s Department of Civil Rights, Inclusion and Opportunity. The Department will then investigate and if a violation is found, the Detroit Police Department will issue a ticket for a misdemeanor that will then be taken up by the 36th District Court.
Ensuring access to safe, reliable housing
Multiple empirical research studies have demonstrated that policies ensuring that those returning from incarceration have access to reliable and safe housing help reduce recidivism rates.
“I am proud to stand with Councilmember Ayers on this important issue for our returning citizens,” said Mayor Duggan. “The Fair Chance Ordinance is a necessary step forward in that direction and just the start to ensuring our returning citizens feel welcome in our city and have fair access to the resources they need.
Beyond housing, Detroit will continue its partnerships at the state and federal level on "Ban the Box" policies in the hiring process and continue its work with the Returning Citizens’ Task Force to provide job training, expungements, identification and other resources to this vulnerable population.
“My father is an educated, hardworking and loving man but was in and out of prison for most of my life. Many of the Detroiters I represent and speak to across the city have struggled with loved ones falling into the cycle of repeat incarceration because they have no support network when they come home,” said Councilmember Ayers. “This issue is deeply personal to me but it is also just common sense. We often talk about being tough on crime, but we also must be smart on crime. I have spent my time in office working hard for this vulnerable population and also for the public safety of all Detroiters. If we want to have a city and a society that truly believes in redemption and rehabilitation, then we must ensure that our citizens who have served their time can reintegrate and have a fresh start and a fair chance.”