A leading provider of social services for recently released prisoners is challenging a New York City landlord that, it says, has a policy of not renting to people with criminal records.
The social services group, the Fortune Society, filed a lawsuit on Thursday in federal court contending that such bans were illegal because they disproportionately affect black and Latino men, and that such disparate impact was in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act and New York State law.
The lawsuit was brought against the owners and manager of the Sand Castle, a rental complex in Far Rockaway, Queens, with more than 900 apartments. The suit is one of the latest efforts in a nationwide push to make it easier to integrate people emerging from prisons back into their communities.
Concern over legal restrictions that hinder former prisoners’ efforts to find jobs and homes, long voiced by advocates of criminal justice reform, has taken on a broader urgency in recent years. Faced with stark fiscal pressures and rising criticism, many state governments have been rethinking practices that led to record levels of incarceration. Nationwide, about 700,000 people a year are currently being released from prison.
Some states and cities have passed laws prohibiting employers from asking about criminal histories during the initial round of a job application. In New York City, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg signed an executive order in 2011 banning questions about criminal histories by city agencies until the second job interview, and limiting the use of any criminal record that was disclosed.
But housing is a newer front.