Austin woman says she can’t find housing because of criminal record


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Every Austinite knows how hard it is to find housing that’s in their budget.

But for Eve, the apartment hunt has taken years.

“They would have something available in my budget, and I’d pay the administration fees,” Eve said. “Then I’d get rejected.”

Eve has several drug convictions that she’s completed counseling programs for, and her last charge was in 2012.

She said she has held down a steady job for years, working her way up to assistant general manager at her company.

But every time she applies for an apartment, she’s denied.

An apartment locator told her it was a 1991 misdemeanor prostitution charge that raised a red flag on most applications.

“I have proven over and over and over again: I’m a respectable member of the community. Not only did I pay my dues by doing the time, I paid the fees. I did the probation. I did everything that was expected of me. So to have to be punished again for something I did nearly 30 years ago? It’s outlandish.”

But state law does allow landlords to run background checks and to deny you based on your record. Many common checks go back around 10 years.

Paul Cauduro with the Austin Apartment Association said landlords have to “mitigate risk” and weigh that with the safety of all their tenants, without discriminating against the applicant.

“If you say that you are not going to rent to anybody with a criminal record, then you run afoul of, or possibly run afoul of the Fair Housing Act Standards,” he said.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has rules on what constitutes housing discrimination, under that Act.

Additionally, in April of 2018, the Austin/Travis County Reentry Roundtable, who helps find solutions for people reintegrating into society after serving time, released their own set of guidelines to help Rental Housing Providers navigate the process.

Data provided by Austin/Travis County Reentry Roundtable

The guidelines feature a table of “reasonable look-back periods” for different crimes, suggesting how far back a landlord should go when considering an applicant’s criminal history.

“It’s really in the owner’s best interest to not put up so many barriers,” Cauduro said.

He explained that if a landlord is denying every applicant with a criminal record, they could be in violation of the Fair Housing Act Standards. They, however, are allowed to maintain policies of denying housing to applicants with specific criminal pasts, like crimes against another person or against property.

Cauduro said they encourage landlords to work on a “case-by-case basis.”

“We try to get people in, and then if there are mitigating circumstances, they can discuss those with the property and overcome,” Cauduro said.

Travis County officials are holding an Expunction Expo to help people clear their records, but since Eve was convicted of the crimes, she doesn’t qualify.

“I was told by the apartment locator that it’s easier for a homeless person to get housing than someone with a record,” she said.

She went on to say that without a few lucky breaks, she could have been living on the street. With housing in Austin in such high demand, she fears she will keep being denied because of her record.

“How many second chances do I have to try and get to have this no longer be considered as a part of who I am?”

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