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House of Representatives
Session of 2013 - 2014 Regular Session


Posted: April 3, 2013 04:11 PM
From: Representative Vanessa Lowery Brown
To: All House members
In the near future, I intend to introduce legislation amending the Pennsylvania Housing Authorities Law for the purpose of defining the term of ineligibility regarding certain applicants for federally-assisted housing.

As many of you are aware, federal statute (42 U.S.C. § 13661) governs housing authorities and their ability to deny certain applicants for federally-assisted housing due to a previous criminal conviction. However, federal law also states that after the expiration of a reasonable period of time, a housing authority may consider sufficient and compelling evidence as is necessary to determine that an applicant has abstained from engaging in criminal activity for the purpose of approving their admission to federally-assisted housing.

Although at first glance it would seem as if this statute provides ex-offenders with an adequate form of recourse; however, due to the ambiguity of the phrase “reasonable period,” this law essentially grants housing authorities broad discretion in interpreting and defining what “reasonable” means.

The impetus for this legislation was multiple instances of residents in my district who have expressed their ire and frustration over the fact that they are being denied admission to federally-assisted housing due to a criminal conviction that they incurred many years prior. These individuals, who oftentimes were immature and misguided youths during the commission of their initial offense, have wholly paid their debt to society and have for years led productive and honest lives. Nevertheless, at the discretion and whim of any given housing authority, I have found that many of my constituents, whom are of advanced age (i.e., in their 50’s, 60’s and even 70’s) and decades removed from their offenses, are still unjustly harboring a seemingly never ending debt to society.

Therefore, it is due to the foregoing reasons I am proposing to define the phrase “reasonable period,” as it is applicable in our Commonwealth, as “any period of time that is indicative of successful rehabilitation or active abstention from the engagement in criminal activity not to exceed ten years following the most recent conviction or period of confinement resulting from the conviction.” It is also important to note that the provisions of this legislation would not be applicable to individuals who are subject to lifetime registration under Pennsylvania’s sex offender registration program, as is expressly prescribed by federal law.

Lastly, it is my firm contention that the above federal statute was fashioned in a way to provide the individual states with the right to exercise its own discretion on how to best gauge one’s rehabilitation or abstention from criminal activity. As such, I ask that you please join me in wielding Pennsylvania’s discretion in a manner that further incentivizes the rehabilitation (when necessary) and productivity of its citizens.

If you should have any questions or concerns regarding this legislation, please contact Brandon J. Flood at (717) 772-6955 or bflood@pahouse.net.

Introduced as HB1720