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Detroit City Council supports bill to make it easier for those formerly incarcerated find housing

Detroit City Council supports bill aiming to address housing for renters with criminal backgrounds
Detroit City Council supports bill aiming to address housing for renters with criminal backgrounds 02:30

(CBS DETROIT) - The Detroit City Council unanimously voted on Tuesday to support the Fair Chance Access to Housing Act. Supporters hope this will send a message to lawmakers in Lansing that they want House Bill 4878 voted into law.

"To be honest with you, I don't know why the Michigan House hasn't passed it so far," said Marvin Cotton Jr., with Nation Outside. "It should pass pretty easy. It's safer for the community to allow folks to have housing."

Cotton works with Nation Outside, a Michigan advocacy group that supports those impacted by the justice system. He said the bill's goal is to prevent landlords from discriminating against the formerly incarcerated.

"I did 20 years in prison. Nineteen years, seven months and 12 days in prison for a crime I didn't commit," said Cotton. "I was exonerated Oct. 1, 2020. And immediately when you're exonerated, it's not taken off of your record. So, I know what it feels like not to be able to get housing, not to be able to rent a house. Because they're seeing this felony show up when they do a background check on you. And that lasted for me for several months. To where landlords were able to take advantage of me and charge me more because they knew I couldn't go anywhere else."

He said people with felony records are often made to jump through extra hoops to find a place to rent.

"I've heard stories from women in our group ... to where they've had to exchange favors in order so that the background check can be overlooked because they knew they couldn't go anywhere else. So it's a dire situation."

The Fair Chance Access to Housing Act would limit the use of background checks during the rental application process.

"There's still background checks, but they won't solely be able to deny a person's application because this person has a felony. They never return the money. You know they take your money for the application fee, and then they deny you. Knowing that they're going to deny you if a felony comes up. But this would allow you to get past the initial stage. And if a landlord has a specific problem with the crime, they can put it in writing why they don't want to rent."

He said the change would help keep people from returning to incarceration and keep all communities safer. 

"You have a greater chance at someone living a successful life if they are able to plug into the most important things that society has to offer. And having a home is one of those things," said Cotton.

He said the Detroit City Council's unanimous vote in support of the bill should be a loud message to lawmakers in Lansing, but the bill is still currently sitting in committee waiting for a vote. 

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