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New York City Council holds hearing on Fair Chance for Housing Act, which ends criminal background checks on renters

NYC bill would end criminal background checks for prospective tenants
NYC bill would end criminal background checks for prospective tenants 02:13

NEW YORK -- The New York City Council is considering an end to criminal background checks for prospective tenants.

Thursday, the Civil and Human Rights Committee held a hearing on the Fair Chance for Housing Act, which would prevent landlords from considering a potential tenant's criminal past before renting out apartments. 

There was a packed house in the committee hearing room. Those who support the bill say it gives struggling New Yorkers a second chance, but opponents say it's a major safety risk. 

"Today, we go from saying that you can't live with us to saying housing is a human right and every New Yorker deserves stable housing. Today, we turn the narrative around," said Councilman Keith Powers. 

"I really hope the administration will come to its senses and start protecting the rights of formerly incarcerated individuals," said Council Member Lincoln Restler.

The legislation would ban landlords from running criminal background checks on prospective tenants, prohibiting housing discrimination and allowing formerly incarcerated New Yorkers to move in if qualified. 

"We have to stop demonizing people with conviction histories. People should not face never-ending punishment after they served their rime," said Andre Ward, associate vice president at the David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy at the Fortune Society. 

But the bill is controversial. 

"I don't support the bill. I came to testify," said Geoffrey Davis, who lost his brother, former New York City Council Member James Davis, to gun violence in 2003.

"You're letting someone come into your home and you don't know whether they've been in and out of prison," Davis added. 

Some landlord-tenant attorneys who support the bill said it should be modified. 

"I think felonies should be excluded," said Altagracia Pierre-Outerbridge, founder of Outerbridge Law.

While safety is a concern, so is the racial impact. 

"Black and brown people will be further discriminated against because of this bill," said Pierre-Outerbridge. 

As it stands, the legislation would not ban landlords from using the New York Sex Offender Registry or apply to two-family homes. It would not affect NYCHA complexes because background checks are required by federal law. 

"City residents will feel that they are less safe than they used to be," said Pierre-Outerbridge. 

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams is co-sponsoring the bill. Williams said it will be the start of restoring decades of housing inequalities that Black and brown New Yorkers have faced for generations. 

Supporters pushed to change the law last year, but many landlords and tenants prevented it from moving forward. Thirty of the council's 51 members have sponsored the new bill. 

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