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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2021 - 2022 Regular Session


Posted: March 31, 2021 01:28 PM
From: Senator Nikil Saval
To: All Senate members
Subject: Fair Chance Housing
In the near future, I will be introducing Fair Chance Housing legislation that ensures Pennsylvania upholds the value of housing for all. By prohibiting landlords from conducting criminal background checks when screening prospective tenants, this Fair Chance Housing law eliminates a crucial barrier preventing the successful return of incarcerated people who have served their sentences and deserve a full shot at a second chance.

Fair Chance Housing legislation extends the ethos of hard-won federal Civil Rights laws instated to guarantee equal access to basic human needs. Enacted in response to mass mobilizations challenging the oppression of Black Americans engrained in everyday social relations and guarded by both culture and law, the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects against discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, and sex in the workplace.

Since 1964, racism has evolved. Most notably, it has fueled a “War on Drugs” that silenced radical movements entrenched in Black communities and mobilized for transformative change. The shift away from large-scale commitments to civil rights and racial justice spurred public divestment from crucial services and institutions. It also saw unprecedented investment in systems of incarceration and surveillance targeting black communities. Those racialized policies led to a massive increase in the overall incarcerated population altogether, white, Black, and brown.

Together, these trends increased the U.S. prison population such that one in three adults in the U.S. today have criminal records. Because their criminal records block access to education, jobs, housing, and even the vote, returning citizens report high rates of recidivism. Rather than expanding opportunities for this vulnerable population, our society has tended to restrict their access to fundamental rights. One of those rights is housing.

Our Fair Chance Housing legislation can begin to remedy this. It follows the lead of San Francisco, Seattle, and Richmond, California where similar legislation has been enacted, and creates legal protections that help returning citizens find equal footing. In addition to preventing landlords from conducting criminal background checks when screening for tenants, our bill expands the definition of “criminal records” to include conviction records, arrest records, or criminal history. In other words, it helps returning citizens find housing and better equips them with the tools to acclimate after they have paid their dues.

In the aftermaths of uprisings that forced the nation to reckon with anti-Black racism, and the way it has fundamentally deformed our democracy, we are the tasked as legislators to find concrete ways to support racial and economic justice. This is one means, and I hope you will join me in co-sponsoring this important piece of legislation.

Introduced as SB912