New OK Policy report examines barriers to affordable housing for Oklahomans with felony convictions

A new report¬†from Oklahoma Policy Institute, titled “Barriers to Affordable Housing for Oklahomans with Felony Convictions,” shows how Oklahoma’s major public housing assistance programs exclude people with felony records from getting help. The report also discusses alternative models used by other states and localities to effectively strengthen families and decrease homelessness and recidivism among people with felony convictions.

Oklahoma’s criminal justice makes felony convictions and incarcerates state residents at one of the highest rates in the U.S. Every year, thousands of these incarcerated Oklahomans are released to the streets with nowhere to live.

“If people coming out of prison or a halfway house can’t find affordable housing, they often end homeless or living with the same people they were around when they got in trouble,” said OK Policy analyst Carly Putnam, the author of the report. “Instead of helping them to rejoin their family and contribute to a safe community, Oklahoma’s housing restrictions prolong isolation from society and make it more likely that ex-offenders will fall back into crime or substance abuse.”

For example, Hope Community Services, an Oklahoma City-based non-profit that provides outpatient behavioral health services for those recently released from prison, reported that of 227 individuals they served, only 29 (10 percent) had housing in place when they left prison. Of the remaining 198 individuals, 159 (80 percent) were denied housing due to a felony history.

Federal law requires public housing authorities to ban those convicted of manufacturing methamphetamine in federally-assisted housing and those who are a lifetime registered sex offender. Local housing authorities are allowed to make broader restrictions, but the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has urged local authorities to prioritize reunifying families above excluding applicants with prior convictions. Recent reforms in Salt Lake City and New Orleans have provided models for how to expand access to stable housing for ex-felons. However, the report finds that Oklahoma housing authorities are broadly excluding applicants based on a history of arrest or conviction of numerous crimes.

Reentry experts say finding housing, transportation, and a job are the biggest challenges for individuals coming out of prison or probation. This year Oklahoma did ease some restrictions on residents with felony convictions. Legislation passed in 2015 helped to remove licensing restrictions that blocked those with felony records from taking certain jobs or obtaining a commercial driver’s license.

“In Oklahoma and across the nation, we’re starting to realize that piling more and more restrictions on people with felony records doesn’t make us more safe,” said OK Policy Executive Director David Blatt. “Lawmakers made good progress this year opening access to jobs for ex-prisoners. If we’re going to keep getting smart on crime, better housing policies should be another obvious target for both the state and local agencies.”

The study was funded by a grant from the Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation. You can view the full report from OK Policy here or download it as a pdf here.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gene Perry worked for OK Policy from 2011 to 2019. He is a native Oklahoman and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in history and an M.A. in journalism.

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