Following a federal lawsuit filed by The Legal Aid Society (LAS), in which Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP later became co-counsel, New York City has enacted changes in its policy regarding criminal background checks in City-funded housing developments.  Previously, the City required all developers participating in its subsidy and loan programs to run criminal background checks on all applicants. With few rules in place for applying such background checks, some buildings enforced arbitrary, extreme, and discriminatory criminal record admission policies, such as rejecting any applicants for housing who had an offense in the past 10 years. 

These criminal record admission policies disproportionately affected BIPOC applicants.  “Extensive research has proven that Black and Latino people in America are disproportionately convicted and incarcerated in comparison to their white counterparts,” stated Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) Legal Coordinator Madhulika Murali in a newsletter.  “By definition, a blanket policy of rejecting everyone with a history of justice involvement has a disparate impact based on protected characteristics of race and ethnicity, in violation of fair housing laws.” One such applicant who was affected by these discriminatory policies was Ms. L. Smith, who was denied an apartment in a City-funded development solely because of a 10-year-old, unrelated felony conviction, despite her exemplary post-conviction record of employment and community volunteer work. 

As the FHJC noted, the City’s policy change has important implications for low-income households applying for City-funded units, homeless households applying for set-aside apartments, and anyone with a felony or misdemeanor record applying for City-funded housing.  The policy is described in greater detail in HPD’s marketing handbook and its attachments, available on HPD’s website HERE.

D. Brandon Trice and Molly K. Webster at Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP were co-counsel to LAS and represented Ms. L. Smith in the federal litigation.