RICHMOND, Va. (WFXR) – Last week, Attorney General Mark Herring, as well as partners in the housing industry, launched a new tool that will help to reduce housing discrimination and increase housing stability and options for Virginians with previous nonviolent convictions.

“Each one of us is more than the worst thing we have ever done. Virginians who have made mistakes in the past and served their time deserve a fair chance to access safe, stable housing as they work to rebuild their lives and provide for themselves and their families. During National Fair Housing Month and Second Chance Month, I am encouraging rental housing providers to adopt this ‘ban the box’ housing policy that will keep our communities safe, while also expanding housing opportunities and preventing Virginians from being unfairly or unlawfully denied housing.”

Mark Herring, Virginia’s Attorney General

The Virginia Fair Housing Law prohibits housing discrimination against someone because of membership in a protected class, including race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, age 55 and up, family status, veteran status, source of income and /or disability.

In Virginia, rental housing providers often maintain and apply a blanket ban on renting to anyone with a criminal conviction, regardless of the nature of the conviction or how long ago it may have taken place.

Overly expansive policies like this can result in severely limited housing options or even unlawful discrimination, especially against Black Virginians and people of color who are disproportionately affected by the Commonwealth’s criminal justice system.

The Model Policy for Tenant Screening consists of three steps that balance the goals of public safety and fair housing choice.

  1. The policy instructs providers to first consider whether an applicant’s income and credit qualifies them for a rental
  2. If an applicant is otherwise qualified, a housing provider should then conduct a tailored background screening to determine whether someone’s background makes them a good rental candidate, or whether more examination and information is needed. The model policy lists particular categories of criminal convictions that housing providers may want to collect and analyze
  3. Finally, even if information in the background screening raises an issue, the housing provider should allow an applicant to provide additional evidence or information in order to perform an individualized assessment about an applicants’ suitability to rent a property

Guidance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) explains the housing implications of relying too heavily on criminal records, “As many as 100 million U.S. adults – or nearly one-third of the population – have a criminal record of some sort. When individuals are released from prisons and jails, their ability to access safe, secure, and affordable housing is critical to their successful re-entry to society. Yet many formerly incarcerated individuals, as well as individuals who were convicted but not incarcerated, encounter significant barriers to securing housing because of their criminal history.”