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Summer 2016   

    HIGHLIGHTS IN THIS ISSUE:


Housing, Inclusion, and Public Safety

Highlights

      • Crime is related in part to the built environment. The planning subfield of crime prevention through environmental design has developed a substantial amount of research on ways in which design elements such as lighting and opportunities for surveillance can reduce crime.
      • Public safety is enhanced when people are incorporated into the social and economic life of the community, including groups that have traditionally been difficult to incorporate such as opportunity youth and former prisoners.
      • HUD has encouraged public housing agencies to use their discretion to give second chances to deserving former inmates who show a reasonable probability of favorable future conduct.



Rowhomes along a street in Brooklyn, New York.

Neighborhood conditions, including the physical state of housing stock, quality of schools, policing, and other amenities such as recreational options, influence public safety.

People want to live in safe neighborhoods where they are free from fear — where they can thrive and reach their full potential. For too many people in too many places, crime, even violent crime, is a daily reality, and the threat of crime is ever looming. Low-income households may struggle more than others to find affordable housing in safe neighborhoods. The personal costs of living in a dangerous neighborhood are high. Being victim of crime, witnessing crime, or fearing crime, in addition to the direct impact of a crime that could result in serious injury or death, can lead to stress and isolation, impair physical and mental health, and diminish school and work performance.1 The housing and community development context weighs heavily in achieving a higher level of public safety. Numerous housing and neighborhood conditions influence public safety, including the physical quality of the housing stock, policing strategies in particular areas, and, significantly, inclusion, or the extent to which all residents are included in the life of the community. Inclusion is particularly challenging and critical for groups of residents that communities historically have struggled to include. One such group is the roughly 5.5 million youth in America between the ages of 16 and 24 who are neither employed nor in school.2 These “disconnected youth” are also known as “opportunity youth,” reflecting the individual and societal gains that could be realized if these youth were reconnected. Another group that communities have traditionally struggled to include is formerly incarcerated individuals. When these groups are successfully included in their communities, they are better able to flourish personally and are less likely to engage in criminal activity that endangers public safety. A number of evidence-based policy responses at the federal, state, and local levels seek to enhance public safety by addressing the housing and community development context and by better incorporating at-risk youth and formerly incarcerated individuals.

The Housing and Community Development Context

Although crime and public safety are concerns for all communities, crime is concentrated in disadvantaged neighborhoods.3 Research shows that living in a disadvantaged neighborhood can increase the risk of a youth or adult engaging in criminal activity, even after controlling for individual sociodemographic characteristics.4 In other words, the prevalence of crime in these areas is explained in some measure by neighborhood disadvantage itself. This finding results in part from disparities in the physical environment. Older, deteriorating housing stock, for example, increases exposure to lead-based paint, which has been linked to aggressive and antisocial behavior that sometimes results in criminal acts.5 Physical blight, as evident in dilapidated housing, is also associated with increased criminal activity. Signs of physical disorder are a signal to criminals that residents are not invested in a neighborhood and are therefore less likely to report crimes.6 Similarly, research shows that vacant properties, which often deteriorate in physical quality and leave fewer “eyes on the street,” contribute to increased crime, including assault and arson.7 Other mechanisms that potentially influence criminal behavior in a neighborhood context include peer groups; social interactions; the quality of schools, police, and other social goods; and the design of the built environment.8

The concentration of crime in disadvantaged neighborhoods may also reflect disparate policing practices.9 In the absence of effective enforcement, residents may turn to other means of protection. Research by Sobel and Osoba suggests that youth gangs form in such areas as a way to protect youth from violent crime.10 In the same places, law enforcement may focus on low-level, nonviolent offenses, resulting in high rates of arrest and incarceration but diminishing returns in terms of public safety.11 In neighborhoods where a substantial portion of the population cycles in and out of prisons, social networks and institutions are weakened, eroding social capital and collective efficacy, which in turn increases the likelihood of criminal activity in the neighborhood.12 This dynamic makes the successful reintegration of returning former prisoners — a break in the cycle of reentry and recidivism — a critical step for improving public safety.


A boy and girl smile on swings in a park.

Exposure to crime can lead to stress that impairs physical and mental health, including school performance, whereas living in a safe neighborhood positions children to flourish.

Communities can also enhance public safety by addressing the environmental factors that contribute to crime. Combating blight and remediating lead contamination address the connection between crime and poor housing quality. Communities may likewise engage a range of strategies, including code enforcement, tax foreclosure, land banking, demolition, neighborhood marketing, and commercial revitalization, among others, to return vacant properties to productive use with a positive impact on crime.13 Demolition strategies, which may be necessary in distressed neighborhoods with weak real estate markets, should include plans for reuse such as urban farming, wetlands, or recreational space. A randomized controlled trial of a vacant lot greening intervention in Philadelphia, for example, found that greening was associated with reductions in certain gun crimes and an increased perception of safety among residents.14

The relationship between environmental design and crime suggests that the environment can be designed or altered in ways that reduce crime. One planning subfield, crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED), has developed a substantial amount of research on the relationship between environmental design and public safety. Increasing the level of surveillance over an area, controlling access, and establishing clear territorial boundaries with fences or landscaping can help reduce crime.15 For instance, by incorporating lighting and surveillance, limiting possible escape routes, and promoting high visibility in public and semipublic spaces, potential criminals have fewer opportunities to conceal activities or evade law enforcement.16 Increasingly, CPTED also considers the relationship between the built environment and social factors that influence crime, such as how a space can be designed to host festivals and cultural events that foster a strong sense of place and community.17 CPTED is complex and difficult to evaluate, raising research quality questions and precluding definitive conclusions regarding its effectiveness, but several studies find reduced crime and other positive outcomes in places that have implemented CPTED interventions. Some questions remain about whether these interventions reduce crime or simply displace it to other places or times.18 More research is needed to better understand the relative importance of individual and environmental factors as well as how the interaction of these factors causes criminal activity.19

In practice, Derek J. Paulsen, commissioner of planning, preservation, and development for the city of Lexington, Kentucky, and professor of justice studies in the College of Justice and Safety at Eastern Kentucky University, says that most planners, architects, and developers would agree that crime prevention is related to design and is important, although not necessarily near the top of their list of considerations. Much more could be done, he says, to incorporate crime prevention into the design of new housing developments and in municipal planning. To this end, the Lexington-Fayette Urban County government now integrates crime prevention into its comprehensive plan. Police sign off on development plans just as a fire marshal does in most jurisdictions, allowing police to have input on the design of areas for which they will later be held responsible for preventing and responding to crime. Paulsen points out that designing for crime prevention could also be required in applications for federal funding, such as low-income housing tax credits.20

An urban neighborhood with buildings, street lamps, cars, and pedestrians.
Lighting is among the design elements addressed by the planning approach known as crime prevention through environmental design, or CPTED.

Policing can prevent crime and promote public safety, ideally without excessive arrests and incarcerations. The final report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing highlighted the need for a relationship of trust between communities and law enforcement based on a culture of transparency and accountability. The report emphasizes crime reduction through community policing that builds on community engagement and avoids tactics that stigmatize certain groups and can result in disparate outcomes for those groups.21 Defined as a philosophy promoting strategies based on the proactive use of partnerships and problem-solving techniques to address the immediate preconditions of crime and social disorder, community policing improves on “the traditional policing model that emphasized preventive patrol, rapid response, arrests, and investigations.” Scheider recommends community policing specifically for public housing agencies as well as for municipalities. Public housing agencies could identify criminal justice-related problems specific to their context, such as drug and alcohol violations or the reentry of former prisoners, and collaborate with relevant stakeholders to develop solutions.22

Throughout the country, police departments have successfully collaborated with community stakeholders in pursuit of specific strategies to reduce crime and revitalize neighborhoods. In California’s East Bay Area, for instance, the community development organization Pogo Park, the Richmond Police Department, and the city housing director partnered to facilitate a community-informed cleanup of a park and renovation of surrounding vacant properties along with the reoccupation of a home that had been a center of drug activity in a crime hotspot. The park area has enjoyed a dramatic reduction in crime and now serves as a community meeting place and the distribution center for the school district’s free summer lunch program.23 Although evaluating the effectiveness of community policing generally is difficult because strategies and implementation vary across sites, meta-analysis by Gill et al. finds that community policing improves the perception of safety, citizen satisfaction, and trust of police, although it does not find significant reductions in crime or the fear of crime overall.24

Communities can also address low-level crime through community courts that involve residents in identifying public safety concerns, administer justice through service assignments, and offer social services to address the causes of crime.25 Some community courts have been initiated by court systems, others by mayors or city prosecutors, and still others by community activists, but a common feature of these efforts is community engagement and responsiveness.26 A few evaluations of community courts have found reduced levels of certain crimes in the community, reduced recidivism, speedier resolution of cases, increased use of alternatives to incarceration, and improved public perceptions of safety and criminal justice, but more rigorous studies are needed to confirm that these benefits can be attributed in full or in part to the courts.27 Critics caution that the presence of community courts might encourage law enforcement to charge low-level offenders that they otherwise would not, and further, that the community courts might perpetuate the racial biases of the broader court system if not implemented well.28 Beyond the formal structure of a community court, research shows that communities with strong social ties and a willingness to intervene on each other’s behalf can reduce violence, even in severely disadvantaged areas.29

Finally, research shows that providing affordable housing — particularly supportive housing that offers onsite services for substance abuse, employment, or other needs — for populations at risk of criminal justice involvement, such as chronically homeless and formerly incarcerated individuals, reduces the likelihood of future incarceration and associated public costs. The Justice Policy Institute finds that states that spend more on housing generally have lower incarceration rates and suggests that investing in affordable and supportive housing gives people a stable foundation for education, employment, and services, including those in groups at higher risk for criminal activity.30 Coordinated place-based investments such as Choice Neighborhoods and Promise Zones also seek to improve public safety by addressing the various housing and community development factors that influence crime. These programs take a holistic approach to community revitalization, crossing policy sectors such as housing and education in ways that are relevant for addressing risk factors for crime, such as youth disconnection.31 For example, in San Antonio, Texas, a Choice Neighborhoods implementation grant and a Promise Neighborhoods implementation grant combined investment in housing, education, and job training in the EastPoint neighborhood, better enabling the neighborhood to incorporate all residents into community life and, as a result, reducing the risk factors associated with criminal activity.32

Opportunity Youth

Neighborhoods can become safer as they more fully incorporate all of their residents into the social and economic life of the community, including opportunity youth — those between the ages of 16 and 24 who are neither employed nor in school. For opportunity youth, reconnecting with school or employment holds the promise of increasing their income, having a better quality of life, and avoiding involvement with the criminal justice system. Because opportunity youth are four times more likely than other youth to commit crimes, with an estimated 63 percent of youth crime attributable to opportunity youth, reconnecting these youth with school or employment may also result in substantial gains in public safety and associated reductions in public spending.33 At the societal level, researchers estimate that, in 2011 dollars, each opportunity youth generates a direct taxpayer burden of $170,740 and a social burden of $529,030 between the ages of 25 and 65. These calculations account for added public costs for social services as well as unrealized tax revenues, earnings, and economic growth.34 The extent of the burden reflects the extent of the opportunity. Everyone stands to gain from the full engagement of the nation’s opportunity youth.

A community garden surrounded by homes.
Strategies such as vacant lot greening and community gardens can enhance public safety.

Youth may become disconnected for many reasons, and several factors may be both a cause and consequence of disconnection.35 Causes of disconnection from school include a history of academic difficulties or failure; a history of discipline or behavior issues; chronic absenteeism, which may be associated with homelessness or health issues; a lack of parental support; the premature assumption of adult responsibilities; peer influences; poor school quality; and disaffection with school faculty, structure, or curriculum, among other factors.36 Differences among opportunity youth compared with connected youth provide additional insight into the reasons why youth become disconnected. Those differences include a higher likelihood of living in poverty, having left high school without graduating or having high school as their highest academic credential, and having a disability. Disconnected females are more than three times as likely to have a child.37 Teen parents, foster youth, and youth involved with the criminal justice system are at higher risk of disconnection than are other youth.38 Racial minorities are disproportionately disconnected. Rates of disconnection are 27.8 percent for Native American youth; 21.6 percent for African-American youth; 16.3 percent for Latino youth; 7.9 percent for Asian-American youth; and 11.3 percent for white youth, who make up the largest number of opportunity youth at about 2.5 million. Although young men are more likely to be disconnected overall (14.2% of young men and 13.5% of young women are disconnected), among Latinos and Asian Americans, young women are more likely to be disconnected than young men.39

Significant variation in the rates of disconnection exists across metropolitan areas. Many characteristics of disadvantaged neighborhoods that are associated with the geographic concentration of crime are also associated with disconnection. Places that score low on the American Human Development Index, a composite measure of health, education, and income indicators, tend to have high rates of disconnection. Areas with high rates of adult unemployment and low levels of adult educational achievement also tend to have high rates of youth disconnection, suggesting that disconnected parents have difficulty supporting their children in employment and educational achievement. Finally, disconnection for some racial groups is strongly associated with residential segregation, a legacy of discriminatory practices and policies that include redlining and restrictive covenants. Lewis and Burd-Sharps find that the higher the degree of segregation between African American and white populations in an area, the higher the likelihood of African-American disconnection.40

Housing instability is both a cause and a consequence of disconnection. It can lead to youth disconnection by contributing to increased rates of school absenteeism and interaction with the criminal justice system, among other pathways. Some opportunity youth may already have experienced homelessness, and opportunity youth are at heightened risk of experiencing homelessness in the future.41 A study of incarcerated youth of color in New York City found that “housing instability was by far the strongest correlate of social exclusion.”42 Although difficult to definitively quantify, a report by the Congressional Research Service suggests that a “significant share” of youth who are ages 16 to 24 and experiencing homelessness would meet the definition of being disconnected.43 Of 39 directors of local programs serving opportunity youth surveyed by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, 24 reported insufficient housing options for youth.44 Generally, policies that reduce family and youth homelessness would provide more youth with a platform for engagement with school and employment, and some policies target groups at higher-than-average risk of disconnection, such as former foster youth.45

Because of the high rate of criminal activity among opportunity youth compared with other youth, policies that support youth engagement also affect public safety.46 Ideally, these policies would prevent youth from becoming disconnected in the first place. Initiatives aimed at certain risk factors such as housing instability or criminal justice involvement create conditions that make it more likely that youth remain connected.47 Policymakers at the state and local levels have implemented alternative education models for at-risk youth such as online learning or offsite classrooms to stem school dropout rates.48 Based on their study of youth in Baltimore who spent their early years living in distressed public housing, DeLuca, Clampet-Lundquist, and Edin highlight several possibilities for reducing youth disconnection, the first category of which centers on housing.

  • Improve access to high-opportunity neighborhoods. Youth stand to benefit from mobility programs that provide housing support, such as vouchers that enable households to move to high-opportunity neighborhoods, the siting of affordable housing in high-opportunity neighborhoods, and place-based strategies that increase opportunities in historically disadvantaged neighborhoods.49
  • Support the creation of “Identity Projects.” DeLuca et al. find that identity projects, described by the authors as a “consuming, defining passion” that can range from an academic interest or passion for football to a meaningful job or role such as parenting, can help youth become and remain engaged and connected. They suggest restoring funding for institutions such as public schools and other local government entities to support arts programs, extracurricular activities, and other types of programming that foster identity projects. They also point out that nonprofits have an important role to play in supporting venues in which identity projects are likely to take root.50
  • Support youth in their pursuit of postsecondary opportunities. DeLuca et al. suggest that youth at risk of disconnection benefit from supports that allow them to slow the transition to adulthood, make better decisions regarding their future, and prepare them for postsecondary opportunities. Supports include school and career counseling for a full range of options, from 4-year college to employment. Youth should receive support to help them choose programs that they can complete, are of good value, and do not leave them burdened with unmanageable debt.51
  • Although prevention is preferable, other policies target youth who have already become disconnected, seeking to reengage youth with education and training opportunities that prepare them for employment or that employ youth directly. A range of policies and programs, both public and private (and often in partnership), seek to engage youth with education and employment opportunities. In a recent effort to facilitate collaboration in service of opportunity youth, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014 provided for up to 10 Performance Partnership Pilots. The pilots are designed to help youth ages 14 to 24 who are homeless, in the juvenile justice system, or disconnected achieve their educational and employment goals. The program allows grantees to pool funds across federal funding streams, affording them the flexibility to reduce administrative burdens and overlap in programs to more efficiently and effectively invest in needed services for opportunity youth.52

    A close-up of a surveillance camera mounted on the corner of a building.
    Surveillance, lighting, limited escape routes, and high visibility of public and semipublic spaces can help restrict opportunities for potential criminals to conceal activities or evade law enforcement. Washington University Medical Center Redevelopment Corporation

    The Family Unification Program (FUP), which provides housing vouchers for up to 18 months for youth who have aged out of foster care, and the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program, which can provide housing support for 18- to 21-year-olds who have aged out of care, promote housing stability for a subpopulation of youth at high risk of disconnection. HUD and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have also launched a FUP and Family Self Sufficiency (FSS) Demonstration that extends the 18-month time limit for FUP vouchers and pairs them with FSS program and public child welfare agency services to give former foster youth more time to develop the skills needed to become self-sufficient.53 The Chafee program builds on the housing platform, providing up to $5,000 per year for youth to pursue postsecondary education and training through the Educational and Training Vouchers Program for Youths Aging Out of Foster Care.54

    Federal programs that offer employment opportunities coupled with education and training include the U.S. Department of Labor’s Job Corps and YouthBuild programs, the U.S. Department of Defense’s National Guard Youth ChalleNGe program, and the various service programs of the Corporation for National Community Service such as AmeriCorps. Job Corps is a residential education and training program for low-income youth that has increased rates of General Educational Development (GED) and vocational certification attainment and reduced rates of arrest and incarceration. In YouthBuild, high school dropouts split their time between education toward a GED and working to renovate affordable housing for low-income individuals and persons experiencing homelessness. Studies of the program over several years show mixed results but generally find positive outcomes for those who completed the program.55 An offshoot of this program, the YouthBuild USA Offender Project, targets young adults who have served time in jail or prison or who have been referred to the program by the criminal justice system as an alternative to incarceration. Comparing program participants with similar groups of youth, an evaluation finds that participants are more likely to graduate from high school or complete a GED and have lower recidivism rates.56 Finally, a random assignment design evaluation finds that the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe program’s education and employment supports have been successful in increasing GED completion, college attendance, and employment, helping youth to reconnect.57

    One example of a public-private partnership to reduce disconnection, the Housing Opportunity and Services Together Demonstration, offers supports such as wraparound and case management services to low-income parents and children in federally assisted housing to help them overcome barriers to self-sufficiency. One of the initiative’s goals is to reduce neighborhood crime by engaging youth. The demonstration relies on philanthropic and government funding and has been implemented in four sites.58

    In Washington, DC, the demonstration included a Promoting Adolescent Sexual Health and Safety program aimed at decreasing teen pregnancy, a risk factor associated with youth disconnection. Early evaluations of the program found that residents reported that they felt better able to achieve their goals; in addition, employment rates improved, keeping more youth connected and thus at lower risk for criminal activity.59

    Some private-sector entities have recognized the potential of reconnecting opportunity youth. The 100,000 Opportunities Initiative is an employer-led push to create at least 100,000 opportunities in the form of jobs, apprenticeships, and internships to opportunity youth by 2018. The initiative is managed by FSG and the Aspen Institute’s Forum for Community Solutions, with support from several private foundations and a partnership of nearly 40 employers.60 Such employer-led engagement not only creates opportunities for youth but also fills employers’ need for nonmanagerial employees and, through additional training such as internships and apprenticeships, middle-skill labor.61

    As discussed above, male and minority youth are disproportionately represented among opportunity youth. In response, the Obama administration’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative targets boys and young men of color with supports to overcome opportunity barriers through mentoring, education, and partnerships with police and communities to reduce crime and violence. The My Brother’s Keeper Task Force recommended investment in summer youth employment as a way to keep youth engaged during summer breaks as well as presenting them with opportunities to earn money and develop skills. In February 2016, the White House announced the Summer Opportunity Project, which supports local communities in providing evidence-based opportunity programs and employment for youth, with the expected additional benefit of reduced criminal involvement. Program components include facilitating partnerships between state and local youth-serving organizations with employers, dissemination of best practices for youth summer programming, and support for mentoring, among others. The HIRE LA’s Youth initiative, for example, has a goal of hiring 15,000 youth for 6-week summer jobs, targeting youth from families receiving public assistance, foster youth, and youth experiencing homelessness.62

    A group of young men and women, some dressed in nurse uniforms, pose for the camera.
    Summer employment programs help keep youth connected. In 2015, Health Care Integrated Services hired several youth as part of the HIRE LA’s Youth program in Los Angeles. Los Angeles Economic & Workforce Development Department

    Supporting Reentry for Formerly Incarcerated Individuals

    Formerly incarcerated individuals represent a second group whose successful inclusion promises to enhance public safety as well as improve their life opportunities and outcomes. In the case of some violent criminals, public safety requires their removal from society. When sentences are completed or prisoners are otherwise released, however, they need a place to live. In an era of mass incarceration, with as many as 2.3 million individuals incarcerated in correctional facilities, more than 600,000 individuals are released from state and federal prisons each year.63 Millions more — nearly 12 million — exit local jails each year.64 Many of these individuals were incarcerated for nonviolent offenses, usually drug-related, and viable alternatives to incarceration may be effective for them.65 Whatever their offense, formerly incarcerated people often struggle to successfully reintegrate into society. Although recidivism rates vary depending on whether they are measured by rearrest, reconviction, or reincarceration, they are high. Approximately 45 percent of individuals released from state and federal prisons are reincarcerated within 3 years of release, either for new crimes or for parole or probation violations.66

    Addressing reentry problems begins with addressing the underlying causes of mass incarceration. Although the number of incarcerated individuals has increased fivefold since 1970, the crime rate has declined. Yet researchers attribute only a portion of the decrease in crime to enforcement and incarceration, suggesting diminishing returns from incarceration on crime reduction.67 In response, the Obama administration has pursued new strategies, such as enforcing mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses less frequently. For the first time in four decades, crime rates and incarceration rates are declining at the same time.68 New and ongoing reforms are also needed to address racial disparities in criminal justice, particularly for African Americans, that “result from disparate treatment…at every stage of the criminal justice system, including stops and searches, arrests, prosecutions and plea negotiations, trials, and sentencing.”69 Together, African Americans and Latinos make up approximately 30 percent of the general population but 60 percent of the prison population.70

    Access to Housing Improves Inclusion and Reduces Recidivism. Housing is an immediate need for individuals newly released from prison. Research shows that former prisoners are at elevated risk of homelessness.71 Barriers to housing include the general shortage of affordable housing across much of the country as well as challenges specific to ex-offenders, such as criminal background checks. Stable housing can be a platform for inclusion and for better outcomes for reentering prisoners, including health, employment, and the reduced likelihood of recidivism. It can also reduce recidivism and its associated social costs and improve public safety for the receiving community.72 Safe, stable, and affordable housing can be a refuge and base while seeking employment or focusing on treatment, and it provides consistency while avoiding the dangers and difficulties of homelessness.73 Job seekers need a permanent address and a means of contacting and receiving contact from prospective employers.74 A quasi-experimental, longitudinal, multisite evaluation of the Washington State Reentry Housing Pilot Program, which provides up to 12 months of housing and wraparound services to high-risk offenders leaving prison, finds that housing with wraparound services increases the likelihood of successful reintegration.75 Programs tailored for subgroups of former prisoners have also shown success. A quasi-experimental design evaluation of the Returning Home–Ohio program, which provides supportive housing for reentering individuals from 13 state prisons who have behavioral health disabilities and risk for or history of housing instability, found reductions in rearrests and reincarcerations within 1 year of release (see “Reducing Offender Recidivism and Reconnecting Opportunity Youth”).76

    Recently, the Obama administration has launched several initiatives to help former prisoners reintegrate successfully, such as the U.S. Department of Education’s Adult Reentry Education Grants and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Linking to Employment Activities Pre-Release pilot grants, as well as initiatives related to housing.77 The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services sponsored the Enhanced Services for the Hard-to-Employ Demonstration and Evaluation Project. The demonstration tested the effectiveness of an intervention that included temporary jobs and other services to support job prospects compared with basic job search assistance and community services. A random assignment evaluation of one of the demonstration sites, the Center for Employment Opportunities in New York City, found significant reductions in recidivism, especially among those who enrolled in the program shortly after release from prison, and reduced criminal justice system expenditures.78

    A young woman behind the checkout counter of a 7-11 attends to a customer.
    Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has set a goal of connecting 15,000 youth with summer jobs. Miyetta Angol was hired by 7-11 in 2016 and will have access to its corporate training program. Los Angeles Economic & Workforce Development Department

    Opportunities in Federally Assisted Housing. HUD has taken steps to reduce barriers to former prisoners in both public housing and the private market. In public housing and in the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program, public housing agencies (PHAs) enforce restrictions related to alcohol abuse, drug use, and past criminal activity to make public housing safer for residents. Federal policies require PHAs to enforce a lifetime ban on admission to public housing and the HCV program for individuals who, for example, have been found to have manufactured methamphetamine in federally assisted housing or are sex offenders subject to a lifetime registration requirement. PHAs also prohibit admission to households if at least one household member has been evicted from public housing in the past three years for drug use, if a household member is engaged in criminal activity, or if the PHA has reason to believe that a household member’s criminal activity will threaten the health and safety of other residents. Within these guidelines, PHAs exercise broad discretion in applying criminal history restrictions to respond to local crime conditions and individual cases, and their restrictions are often more severe than those required by federal policies.79

    In 2011, HUD’s then-Secretary, Shaun Donovan, and Assistant Secretary for Public and Indian Housing Sandra Henriquez encouraged PHAs to give second chances to deserving ex-offenders by, among other things, considering factors that indicate “reasonable probability of favorable future conduct,” such as participation in counseling programs when screening applicants for tenancy.80 Curtis et al. write that despite this urging from HUD, PHAs have tended to use their discretion to exclude. They argue that “the decision to define those with alcohol, drug, or criminal histories as categorically undeserving [of housing assistance] undermines other important public policy goals to support ex-offenders and their families.” For example, the exclusion of households from public housing based on the criminal history of minors or guests may harm families’ chances of getting or retaining housing.81

    Marie Claire Tran-Leung of the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law argues that inquiring into criminal records older than five years, using arrests as evidence of criminal activity, using overly broad categories of criminal activity, and failing to consider mitigating circumstances are ways in which PHAs unreasonably restrict access to housing assistance. Blunt implementation of policies precludes second chances for individuals who have a criminal record and individuals whose past gives little indication that they pose a threat to residents. Tran-Leung writes, “By relegating potentially deserving applicants to homelessness, these housing providers miss an opportunity to decrease crime and risk aggravating the very problems that plague the safety and well-being of their communities.”82

    HUD has sought to ease the impact of PHA policies on former prisoners and especially on their families, seeking to strike “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,” as Donovan and Henriquez put it.83 To this end, in fall 2015, HUD issued guidance for PHAs and owners of federally assisted housing regarding use of arrest records in tenancy decisions. The guidance reminds PHAs that HUD does not require a “one-strike” policy under which admission is denied or evictions triggered “any time a household member engages in criminal activity in violation of their lease” in all circumstances. Significantly, the guidance also explicitly prohibits eviction or denial of an application based on an arrest record, which the guidance notes is not in itself evidence of criminal activity.84

    Reunification with one’s family can be an important step in successful reentry for formerly incarcerated individuals, including avoiding homelessness, but moving back in with a family in public housing may put that family at risk of losing assistance.85 Margaret diZerega of the Vera Institute for Justice says that adjusting the rules so that reentering individuals can return to their families “above board” benefits the individual, the family, and the community at large. The individual is able to take advantage of the resources and emotional supports that can be provided by the family without putting the receiving family at risk of eviction. In addition, because families who take in reentering individuals off lease may be less likely to call the police to report crime or call the PHA for maintenance for fear that they will be evicted, allowing families to add reentering individuals to their lease promises community benefits as well.86

    A view of an apartment building.
    Access to stable housing can improve health, employment, and recidivism outcomes for reentering prisoners.

    Although diZerega notes that many PHAs have not implemented the HUD guidance, the Vera Institute for Justice reports that some PHAs are beginning to adopt more inclusive policies through updated screening policies that evaluate applicants’ criminal records holistically and consider evidence of rehabilitation, among other factors.87 The King County and Seattle Housing Authorities, for example, have revised their voucher screening policies to incorporate a uniform 12-month waiting period after incarceration for Class A felonies, replacing the previous system of waiting periods ranging up to 20 years depending on the crime committed.88 Some PHAs are experimenting with pilot programs aimed at family reunification. For example, the Oakland Housing Authority’s Maximizing Opportunities for Mothers to Succeed program sets aside 11 housing units for mothers leaving jail who have participated in a counseling, education, and employment assistance program. After a year of case management, the residents can apply for permanent housing without having their conviction held against them. The housing agency plans an extension of the program that will also include fathers leaving jail.89 For more examples, see “Reducing Offender Recidivism and Reconnecting Opportunity

    Halfway Houses. These policies aim to open up housing opportunities for formerly incarcerated prisoners, most of whom live with family members after release, although often only temporarily. In addition to HUD-assisted and private-market housing, options for reentering individuals include various types of transitional, administered, supportive, and community-based correctional housing, including halfway houses, but these options are all severely limited, putting reentering persons at high risk of homelessness.90 More than 80 percent of individuals exiting federal prisons live in halfway houses known as Residential Reentry Centers. In some cases, high-risk offenders are required to reside in halfway houses.91 Halfway houses are low-security, correctional, transitional residential facilities that typically offer employment, education, and treatment with supervision.92 Research shows mixed results for halfway houses in reducing recidivism, with studies finding increased recidivism in some cases.93 These outcomes may be related to differences in “staff competency and turnover, clientele, [and] program offerings,” among other variables across halfway houses, which are often operated by private contractors.94

    To improve the likelihood of successful outcomes for residents of federal halfway houses, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) initiated new requirements in 2014 for greater assistance in pursuing job opportunities, such as access to cell phones and transportation as well as specialized treatment for residents with mental health and substance abuse issues.95 DOJ urges individualized continuity of care for reentering citizens as they seek housing, employment, and health care in the community and face reentry challenges.96 A number of reentering individuals find housing in three-quarters houses, typically homes or apartment buildings that rent beds to single adults. These facilities are largely unregulated, although they receive public dollars through various residents’ benefits for housing or other services. Because of their unregulated status, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice Prisoner Reentry Institute finds that most fail to deliver on purported programming and services to aid the transition of reentering individuals.97

    A basketball court in front of red brick apartment buildings.
    HUD has encouraged public housing agencies to give second chances to deserving ex-offenders who need housing assistance. New York City Housing Authority

    Supportive Housing. Recognizing that “a significant number of persons in the reentry population also face persistent substance abuse and other chronic health challenges,” HUD and DOJ are partnering in a Pay for Success program targeting people experiencing homelessness who are frequent users of corrections facilities as well as homeless and healthcare services. Building on evidence that permanent supportive housing with a Housing First approach reduces homelessness, arrests, hospitalization, and emergency room visits for people with severe medical and behavioral problems, the $8.7 million program will test the cost-effectiveness of the intervention for reentering individuals and the possibilities of bringing in nontraditional funding sources.98

    Housing and Community Development as Lever and Platform for              Public Safety

    Public safety is an essential component of opportunity — people cannot reach their full potential while living with the constant threat of death and injury and the accompanying stress. Likewise, the ways in which communities seek to improve public safety affect residents’ opportunities to succeed. Old approaches such as mass incarceration have proven both unjust — with gross racial and ethnic disparities — and ineffective, showing diminishing returns on crime reduction. Housing and community development alone are not the answer for improving public safety, but they are key components of more effective and equitable approaches and are significant levers for improving outcomes. Strong communities that are inclusive and that provide opportunities such as jobs and quality schools can help improve public safety. Specifically, remediating lead, combating blight, and incorporating crime prevention in housing design have the potential to reduce crime, and stable, affordable housing provides a platform for at-risk residents, including opportunity youth and formerly incarcerated individuals, to successfully engage in education, training, and employment. For opportunity youth, housing stability can reduce stress and allow youth to more fully engage in identity projects, school, or employment. For formerly incarcerated individuals, housing is critical for getting the formal and informal supports that break the cycles of recidivism and, in many cases, addiction. The potential gains are substantial, both for the reconnected opportunity youth or reentering prisoners and for the broader community. Housing providers, including PHAs, landlords accepting HCVs, and market-rate landlords, sometimes in partnership with providers of social and supportive services, will play a crucial role in providing housing opportunities to achieve these potential gains.



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    34. Belfield, Levin, and Rosen, 1–2.
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    39. Lewis and Burd-Sharps, 9.
    40. Ibid., 15–7.
    41. Bridgeland and Mason-Elder, 7–8.
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    46. Belfield, Levin, and Rosen, 13.
    47. MDRC. 2013. “Building Better Programs for Disconnected Youth.”
    48. Bridgeland and Mason-Elder, 12.
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    50. Ibid., 8; 190–2.
    51. Ibid., 192–8.
    52. U.S. Department of Education. 2014. “Performance Partnerships for Disconnected Youth.”
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    54. “John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program.”
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    77. “Fact Sheet: President Obama Announces New Actions to Promote Rehabilitation and Reintegration for the Formerly- Incarcerated.”
    78. Cindy Redcross, Megan Millenky, Timothy  Rudd, and Valerie Levshin. 2012. More than a Job: Final Results from the Evaluation of the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) Transitional Jobs Program, Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, v.
    79. Shaun Donovan and Sandra B. Henriquez, letter to Public Housing Authority Executive Directors, 17 June 2011; Marah A. Curtis, Sarah Garlington, and Lisa S. Schottenfeld. “Alcohol, Drug, and Criminal History Restrictions in Public Housing,” Cityscape 15:3, 38.
    80. Donovan and Henriquez.
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    91. U.S. Department of Justice. 2016. Roadmap to Reentry: Reducing Recidivism through Reentry Reforms at the Federal Bureau of Prisons, 5; Valerie A. Clark. 2015. “The Effect of Community Context and Post-Release Housing Placements on Recidivism: Evidence from Minnesota,” Minnesota Department of Corrections.
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    94. Clark.
    95. U.S. Department of Justice. 2014. “In New Step to Fight Recidivism, Attorney General Holder Announces Justice Department to Require Federal Halfway Houses to Boost Treatment Services for Inmates Prior Release: New Rules Also Instruct Federal Halfway Houses to Provide Transportation Assistance, Cell Phone Access in Order to Help Inmates Seek Employment Opportunities,” 24 March press release.
    96. U.S. Department of Justice. 2016. Roadmap to Reentry.
    97. John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Prisoner Reentry Institute. 2013. “Three Quarter Houses: The View from the Inside,” v–vi.
    98. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 2015. “Pay for Success Permanent Supportive Housing Demonstration.”

     

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