Written by Alexis Bennett, Alexis Curls
A guide to finding housing for the previously incarcerated
For many individuals stepping back into society after incarceration, finding a stable place to call home can be complicated. The reality is that those who have been previously incarcerated are almost 10 times more likely to face homelessness compared to the general public. With over 725,000 people leaving state and federal prisons each year, the quest for housing becomes not only a personal challenge but a broader societal concern. Stable housing is crucial for successful reintegration, providing a foundation for building a new chapter in life. In this article, Today’s Homeowner sheds light on the challenges and offers empowering resources for those on their journey to find housing after prison.
Understanding the housing landscape
In the vast expanse of the U.S. housing sector, private housing dominates, representing a whopping 97% of the total housing stock. For those transitioning back into society after incarceration, this landscape presents unique challenges and intricacies.
Housing barriers: One of the most immediate hurdles many formerly incarcerated individuals face is discrimination. Both public housing authorities and private property owners can be selective, often unfairly so, towards those with a criminal past. Amid already escalating challenges like housing shortages and skyrocketing rental prices, many ex-offenders find themselves facing additional scrutiny and prejudice. The stark reality is that even a full-time worker earning minimum wage can’t afford a two-bedroom rental home at fair market rent anywhere in the United States, making the situation even grimmer for those with a record. Most landlords now conduct criminal background checks, further narrowing the options for these individuals.
Housing laws: Diving deeper into the legal framework shows that housing laws and regulations can be stacked against those with criminal records. The National Inventory of Collateral Consequences of Conviction, reveals, as of 2021, over 1,300 illegal record-related barriers across various jurisdictions and an additional 26 at the federal level. These range from mandatory background checks to outright denial of fair housing law protections, evictions, and more.
Available housing options: Despite these challenges, hope is not lost. Several living situations are available for those on the path to reentry. Federally assisted housing, as highlighted by the National Housing Law Project (NHLP), has become a beacon for many. Yet, even here, strict admission policies can create further complications.
In sum, navigating the housing sector after incarceration is no easy feat. But understanding the landscape and the intricacies involved is the first step towards securing a stable home and a brighter future.
Utilizing support services
The journey to stable housing and gainful employment after incarceration can be challenging, but it’s important to remember that both government agencies and independent organizations are there to provide support. Harnessing these resources can make the road to reentry smoother and more achievable.
Financial resources for formerly incarcerated individuals
Vera Institute of Justice: Taking commendable steps to facilitate reintegration, the Vera Institute of Justice offers an array of resources. From tools promoting financial literacy to assistance in job searches, as well as a comprehensive database of reentry programs, this organization provides a holistic approach to support.
Housing Choice Vouchers (formerly Section 8): Administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), these vouchers play a pivotal role for those in the low-income bracket, simplifying the challenge of affording private rental housing.
Federal Second Chance Pell Grant Program: Targeted towards those who are slated for release within a half-decade, this program extends financial aid, ensuring that the bridge to reentry is financially less daunting.
Housing resources for formerly incarcerated individuals
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD): HUD offers a comprehensive array of housing programs designed specifically for low-income groups. Its initiatives are especially beneficial for those reintegrating into society after incarceration.
The Fortune Society: This organization is distinctive in its mission to support the formerly incarcerated — especially those who are homeless. It provides a foundation for rebuilding lives with affordable and supportive housing options.
The Osborne Association: Venturing beyond traditional support, this organization is transforming a previous prison facility in New York into the Fulton Community Reentry Center. It’s also launched the Kinship Reentry and Marcus Garvey supportive housing programs, which cater to diverse housing needs.
Employment resources for formerly incarcerated individuals
Center for Employment Opportunities: Operating in multiple cities throughout the United States, this center is dedicated to connecting formerly incarcerated individuals with both housing and job opportunities, ensuring a holistic approach to reintegration.
National Reentry Resource Center: An invaluable resource, this center offers a detailed directory of programs that focus on job training and placement, simplifying the search for those looking to restart their professional journeys.
Goodwill Industries: Renowned for its extensive support, Goodwill offers specialized training and job placement services, particularly for individuals with criminal records — ensuring they have the tools and opportunities for a fresh start.
These resources can make the reintegration process more manageable, opening doors to opportunities and hope for a brighter future.
Creating a housing plan
Reestablishing oneself after incarceration often comes with unique challenges. One of the most difficult hurdles is securing a place to call home. Instead of navigating this process blindly, it’s essential to have a strategic housing plan to guide your steps.
Define housing priorities: Begin by asking yourself what truly matters in your living space. Do you need a quiet environment? Is safety paramount? Maybe accessibility to certain amenities or a yard is vital for you. Some may place importance on the availability of public transit, while others might need proximity to healthcare facilities. Recognizing these needs and preferences is the foundation for a successful housing search.
Determine budget: One of the most critical aspects of housing is cost. What can you realistically afford in terms of rent, utilities, and other related expenses? You should also factor in one-time costs like security deposits or fees related to setting up utilities. Remember, beyond the monthly rent, consider expenses such as electricity, water, gas, and internet. Additionally, if you’ve kept belongings elsewhere, calculate the costs associated with moving them into your new place, whether that means hiring a truck or seeking assistance from friends and family.
Consider location: Finding the perfect spot isn’t solely about the physical attributes of the residence but also its location. Consider how close it is to essential services like grocery stores, medical centers, public transportation, and employment opportunities. Being near supportive community resources or organizations that assist formerly incarcerated individuals can also be beneficial. Equally vital is the proximity to any personal support networks you might have, such as family or friends. Being close to these support systems can play a pivotal role in your reentry and provide an added layer of stability during times of uncertainty.
Crafting a solid housing plan, while it might seem complex, is a proactive step that can significantly alleviate the anxieties associated with reentry. With clarity on priorities, budget, and location, you’ll be better equipped to make informed decisions and find a place where you can rebuild, grow, and move forward.
Securing and maintaining housing
After laying out a detailed housing plan, the next steps are securing and maintaining your housing, which involves navigating the ins and outs of the tenant-landlord relationship and thriving in your new environment.
Tenant rights: Every individual, regardless of their past, has rights as a tenant. These rights often include protection against discrimination, the right to a habitable living space, and the right to privacy. Familiarize yourself with local and federal laws that protect you. Know that you’re entitled to fair treatment and that there are legal avenues for recourse if your rights are violated.
Lease agreement: Before moving in, there will likely be a lease agreement to sign. This document is a binding contract between you and the landlord detailing the terms of your stay, rent payment, maintenance responsibilities, and other crucial elements. Read the agreement thoroughly. Ensure you understand all its sections, from the duration of the lease to the conditions for termination. Ask questions if anything seems unclear, and always keep a copy for reference.
Community connection: Once you’ve secured your housing, building connections within the community can greatly assist in maintaining it. This might involve getting to know your neighbors, participating in community events, or even joining local support groups. Establishing these connections can not only create a sense of belonging but also foster a support network that can be invaluable if challenges arise.
In the journey of reentry, securing housing is a significant milestone — but maintaining it, understanding your rights, and forming bonds in your new community are equally vital to ensuring long-term stability and success.
Continuing personal growth and reintegration
As individuals progress through the journey of reintegration, personal growth remains a central pillar. Securing housing, employment, and community connections is essential, but nurturing one’s mental and emotional well-being is equally crucial to ensure a holistic and successful reentry into society.
Mental health and self-care: Transitioning back into society can be both an exciting and challenging experience laden with myriad emotions. Addressing any mental health concerns, seeking professional help if needed, and regularly practicing self-care can pave the way for smoother adjustments. This might involve joining support groups, attending therapy, or simply engaging in activities that foster relaxation and self-reflection.
Overcoming challenges: Setbacks are a natural part of life and can be even more pronounced during reintegration. Embracing resilience, seeking guidance when needed, and remaining committed to one’s goals can help navigate these challenges. Remember, every hurdle overcome adds to personal growth, and every experience, whether positive or negative, contributes to your evolving story.
Continuous learning and adaptation: The world will have changed during an incarceration period. Taking proactive steps to catch up — whether that means acquiring new skills, familiarizing oneself with technology, or simply understanding societal shifts — can make reintegration smoother and more fulfilling.
As individuals reintegrate into society, focusing on personal growth is paramount. Addressing mental health, embracing the journey with all its ups and downs, and continuously adapting can not only ensure successful reintegration but also enrich one’s life in countless ways.
The path to reintegration for formerly incarcerated individuals is undeniably challenging, encompassing various facets from housing to personal growth. By understanding the housing landscape, leveraging support services, formulating robust housing plans, and focusing on personal development, individuals can successfully reintegrate into society. It’s essential to remember that the journey doesn’t end with securing housing or employment — it’s about continuous growth, connection, and reclaiming one’s space in the community. By equipping oneself with the right tools, resources, and mindset, reintegration becomes not just feasible but a foundation for a renewed life journey.