Last December, the New York City mayor and city council made a last-minute attempt to address housing discrimination by venturing to pass a controversial bill. Proposed Int. No. 2047-A would interfere with landlords’ ability to run criminal background checks on prospective tenants. The bill is estimated to affect over a million renters in NYC.
Landlord groups responded in outrage, protesting the substantial number of tenants’ safety at risk by being prohibited from checking the criminal histories of potential tenants before inviting them into their buildings.
Though the bill is meant to combat housing discrimination, the president of the Rent Stabilization Association, Joseph Strasburg, expresses concern and runs down a list of crimes that are among those that would go unchecked by landlords should this bill be passed, “Murder, assault, battery, drug dealing, gun-running, sex crimes.” Those who oppose the bill are most apprehensive about living amongst people with these types of backgrounds going unchecked.
A sponsor of the bill, Councilman Stephen Levin defends, “Safe and stable housing is a right every New Yorker deserves, yet conviction records continue to be used to punish and discriminate against people long after they have left the criminal legal system. Removing restrictive barriers would increase access to housing for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers and make it possible for people to restart their lives.” Without having to pass a background screening, many applicants who would otherwise be turned away could have a chance at having a fixed place to live, therefore less opportunity to re-offend.
Spokesman Mitch Schwartz asserts, “Stable housing reduces recidivism. Discriminatory housing practices make it worse. Keeping our city safe means changing the way we think about housing equity—not repeating the same mistakes that leave people behind.”