On April 25, 2019, the Cook County Board of Commissioners took a major step towards supporting justice, fairness, and families by passing the Just Housing Amendment, a measure that will ensure housing providers in Cook County do not discriminate against housing applicants with records. The passage of the amendment comes after a hearing of the Cook County Human Relations Committee on Wednesday, where justice-involved individuals gave testimony on how access to safe and secure housing is a critical right which they are often not afforded.
Troy O’Quin, a veteran and community leader who now lives and works in Cook County, was joined by his wife and two daughters as he testified about his difficulties accessing housing due to his past record. As Troy says, “it takes only a second to break the law but a lifetime to live with the consequences. One second, one crime, one serious lack of judgment…in America this can be a life sentence.”
The Just Housing Coalition, including Alliance to End Homelessness in Suburban Cook County, Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance, Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, Community Renewal Society, Housing Action Illinois, Housing Choice Partners, John Marshall Law School Fair Housing Legal Clinic, Safer Foundation, Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, Supportive Housing Providers Association, Westside Health Authority, Woodstock Institute, and over 100 supporting organizations from throughout Cook County fought for years to change this devastating reality. Chief Sponsor Commissioner Brandon Johnson, early champions and co-sponsors Commissioner Larry Suffredin and Commissioner Jeffrey Tobolski, additional sponsoring commissioners, and support from President Preckwinkle all combined to ensure passage of the amendment and demonstrated that Cook County is committed to being a place where families can thrive and everyone can have a fair chance to access stable housing.
“This is a historic step forward,” says Gianna Baker, Outreach Manager for Housing Action Illinois. “This will not only protect and support families and individuals, but will also set a powerful precedent in a high profile county.
We hope to soon see additional jurisdictions following in Cook County’s footsteps.”
The amendment, which goes into effect this November, will ensure that housing providers and housing authorities do not consider certain aspects of criminal records—such as arrests, juvenile records, and sealed and expunged records—when making housing determinations. For applicants with a conviction on their record, housing providers will need to conduct an individualized assessment and consider factors such as the nature of the offense and the time that has passed since the offense.
One in three Americans has an arrest record before they turn 23, and jurisdictions across the country have passed similar fair housing measures as an integral component of criminal justice reform. Blanket housing bans against people with records disproportionately impacts Black and Brown families, and people with disabilities, and are often an avenue for race- and disability-based discrimination. Research also shows that when individuals with records have stable homes, recidivism rates are reduced.
“At its core, the passage of this amendment means that for more than 1 million people and their families, Cook County has become more just,” said Marie-Claire Tran-Leung, Senior Attorney in Housing and Community Justice at the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law.
About the Just Housing Initiative
The Just Housing Initiative is a coalition of 100+ supporting organizations and individuals with lived experiences who have come together to address housing barriers faced by individuals with arrest and conviction records. The coalition’s member organizations include social service providers, community organizers, legal and policy experts, housing and criminal justice advocates. Learn more at justhousinginitiative.org.