Last week, Smart Justice testified for the first time at the Connecticut General Assembly. With Smart Justice leaders in the room cheering us on, I and my colleague Anderson Curtis testified before the legislature’s Housing Committee about the need to stop discrimination against people who are living with a criminal record.
As a justice-impacted person, I know firsthand that Connecticut needs fair housing practices that allow people living with a criminal record to have a fair chance at finding a place to live. As a former landlord, I also know from experience that someone’s record of arrest or conviction doesn’t tell you whether they will be a safe, responsible, tenant or neighbor: who they are as a person does.
Here is what I told legislators about the need for Connecticut to pass a statewide law to prevent discrimination against people living with a criminal record in things like housing, employment, and insurance:
“Connecticut needs fair housing practices that allow people living with a criminal record to have a fair chance at finding a place to live.
I would like to share my personal experiences with trying to find safe and stable housing as a person living with a criminal record. I was homeless after returning home from prison many years ago. I was 20 years old and had a daughter just under a year old. I was enrolled at Capital Community College, working part-time, and staying in a shelter on South Whitney Street in Hartford. My status as a person living with a criminal record broke my spirit as I entered property management offices over, and over again, and was rejected from renting housing after being completely honest about my recent felony conviction as a young adult.
After homelessness and searching, I finally pled my way into an apartment and six months later, was told by my landlord that I was his best tenant. When I was searching for housing again years later, he also welcomed me to move back in, which I did after my search resulted in negative responses from landlords again.
Before that one person said yes to me, my unstable housing situation caused me to make one of the hardest decisions in my life. Because my record forced me to live in a shelter, I also had no choice but to sign an agreement to let my daughter reside with her grandparents instead of me. This was the biggest heartbreak, as many parents living with a criminal record know too well. Parents living with a criminal record are constantly facing barriers that do not allow them to provide for their families. I know what it feels like as a mother when you cannot reunite with your child because you are facing housing discrimination.
Five years after my experience with homelessness because of discrimination, I became a homeowner and landlord myself. I was then a homeowner with a mortgage, responsibilities, and tenants. I was a property owner for over five years. As a landlord, I rented to people with a criminal record and had no issues. I know firsthand as a former landlord myself that property owners should not judge someone based on their incarceration or criminal record. Someone’s record does not tell you whether they will be a good tenant or neighbor. Everyone deserves a place to live.
As a white woman, it is also important to me to note that issues of housing discrimination based on someone’s record of arrest or conviction disproportionately harm communities of color. I cannot know for sure, but I believe that some doors were more open to me, because of my whiteness, than they may have been for a woman of color in my situation.
Both of these bills are part of an important conversation about how Connecticut needs to remove barriers in our community that hold people living with a criminal record back, including parents from providing for their families. I and many other people know, however, that reentry and the search for stable housing begin on day one, not seven years after someone returns to the community. I and many others also know that reentry and the search for stable housing are equally important for people who have been convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor. Our state will be safer and stronger, and families will be healthier and more stable, when every person living with a criminal record has an equal chance of finding housing. Therefore, I ask you to support and strengthen SB 54 and HB 5713 by having them apply to all people living with a criminal record, not just those who are seven years removed from earning their chance to return to society or those who were convicted of a misdemeanor. Thank you.”