Today’s historically low crime levels provide policymakers with an opportune moment to revisit outdated housing policies, which falsely associate increased public safety with strict restrictions on where individuals with a criminal conviction can live. The New York City Housing Authority’s (NYCHA) Family Reunification Pilot Program (FRPP) has the potential to illustrate the critical role of supportive housing in promoting both successful reentry and community safety.
Regardless of whether the American public accepts the reality that many of 2.3 million people who are currently incarcerated were denied a ‘first chance’ at opportunity, the 700,000 men and women exiting correctional facilities each year should receive a ‘second chance’ to pursue the American dream. But in our society, white picket fences rarely replace rows of concertinaed razor wire. In fact, a safe and stable home is often elusive for many formerly incarcerated men and women.
Although studies indicate that secure housing provides the foundation needed to obtain employment, treatment, and family reunification, 10% of those leaving correctional facilities will face homelessness as they return to their communities. And while the financial cost of sheltering a homeless man or women is less than a fourth of the price to incarcerate him or her, New York City taxpayers still spend $40,000 to support each homeless person, each year. Rather than continuing with a politics of lifetime-punishment that increases individual suffering, decreases community safety, and burdens taxpayers with the financial fallout of short-sighted policy, we should instead consider how to best serve the needs of the individuals and neighborhoods most impacted by incarceration.
In a 2012 letter, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) called for owners of HUD-assisted properties to “seek a balance between allowing ex-offenders to reunite with families that live in HUD subsidized housing, and ensuring the safety of all residents of its programs.” New York City is one of the first communities nationwide to take action on these HUD recommendations. Through the NYCHA’s Family Reunification Pilot Program (FRPP), 150 families will receive support in obtaining NYCHA apartments. For the duration of the two year program, increases in tenants’ income will not change the rent on the unit, and participants may have the opportunity to stay on lease even after the program has been completed. Although currently limited in scale, FRPP has the potential to demonstrate the need for similar programs around the nation and, if proven successful, may be expanded to 175,000 units of NYCHA housing. Although we should exercise caution in using individual programs as a substitute for broader reform, projects like FRPP signal a readiness to move past the archaic paradigms which have characterized our nation’s thinking on criminal justice for too long.
In the United States, punishment doesn’t end at the prison gates. If we truly believe that all people should have the opportunity to be self-sufficient and financially secure, then we should do more of what works and less of what doesn’t. The men and women who have been given an opportunity through the Family Reunification Pilot Program are proving every day that safe and stable housing works for us all.
Glenn Martin is the Founder and Chief Risk Taker of JustLeadershipUSA