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April 24, 2021

"Housing the Decarcerated"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper authored by Norrinda Hayat now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

The coronavirus pandemic exposed an issue at the intersection of the public health, carceral and housing crises — the lack of housing for the recently decarcerated.  Early in the pandemic calls came to release incarcerated persons and cease arrests in light of the risks posed by failing to be able to socially distance while incarcerated.  At the same time, the pandemic forced a national conversation about the sheer number of unhoused persons in our country.  The pandemic created an emergent argument for both broad scale decarceration and publicly funded housing.  The practical process of securing housing for the recently decarcerated, however, is fraught because of what is described in this article as the “culture of exclusion” that has long pervaded subsidized housing policy, enabled by a patchwork of federal laws, including the Anti-Drug Abuse Act (ADA) of 1988 and the Supreme Court case, HUD v. Rucker.

The culture of exclusion is arbitrated by local housing authorities and works on three levels — eligibility, enforcement and set asides.  As a result, formerly incarcerated persons are often rejected outright during the application process.  In addition, persons who live in subsidized housing and are alleged to be engaged in or associated with anyone who is alleged to have participated in criminal conduct can be evicted making subsidized housing itself a pipeline into the prison industrial complex. 

This Article seeks to motivate a pathway towards housing the decarcerated by ending the culture of exclusion.  In Part I, the article briefly updates the status of the prison abolition and right to housing movements. Part II builds on the idea that stable housing for formerly incarcerated persons is essential to the prison abolition movement’s success by reviewing summary results from pilot programs in New York, Washington and Michigan.  Part III suggests that “one strike” policies, have created a broader “culture of exclusion,” which the Supreme Court validated in Rucker, further burdening the process of reentry for the recently decarcerated.  Finally, Part IV, prescribes policy changes that are essential to housing the decarcerated even beyond repealing the ADA and overturning Rucker, including transcending the narrative of innocence, directing PHA discretion to admit not deny and utilizing civil rights laws to equalize voucher holders.

April 24, 2021 at 10:16 AM | Permalink


We are fortunate here in Lexington, Ky. to have a place called St. James Place, where people coming out of prison can get a modest place, much like a college dorm, for little or no money (the staff can connect the former felon to available resources, including Section 8 Housing vouchers) and have a safe home base for beginning a new life in the Free World community. A church next door even operates a Food Bank and used clothing store. All the former felon has to do is follow a few rules, not get drunk or use drugs, and find a job. The facility is located in downtown Lexington and near city bus lines. A separate wing of St. James Place provides similar efficiency apartments for otherwise homeless veterans. This is transitional housing, so residents can generally stay for only 1 year, but that should be long enough to get them on their feet if they are making a little effort. Other cities should look at the St. James Place model.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Apr 25, 2021 9:04:39 AM

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