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Council Committee Agrees To Consider Housing Protections For People With Records

111820 Graham .jpg
City of Charlotte
City council member Malcolm Graham chairs the Great Neighborhoods Committee meeting Wednesday.

A Charlotte City Council committee has agreed to consider updating the city's fair housing policy to protect people with criminal records from housing discrimination.

Council member Renee Johnson endorsed the idea at the council's Great Neighborhoods Committee on Wednesday.

"We know in the field that a criminal background is truly the new Jim Crow," Johnson said. "You know folks are discriminated (against) in housing and employment. This is a real problem."

Willie Ratchford of the city's Community Relations Committee, which hears fair housing complaints, said he wants to study the issue this winter. Part of that study would include surveying landlords. Ratchford then would bring a recommendation back to the neighborhoods committee early in 2021.

Ratchford said his committee had been discussing the idea with advocates for people with criminal records, including the Reentry Housing Alliance. That coalition of groups held a press conference outside the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center on Tuesday calling on the council to adopt protections for people with records.

The idea also has the support of Mayor Vi Lyles. Speaking on WFAE’s Charlotte Talks on Wednesday morning, Lyles said it’s one of the “toughest” problems the city must address.

Lyles said her thoughts on the subject were formed in part by a conversation she had with a former prisoner who now works for the city’s solid waste department.

"He said, 'You know, I’ve done time.' He’s got a job. He’s got health insurance. He can’t get to visit his children overnight because he doesn’t have a place to live," Lyles said. "He can’t — he has to provide a safe place. And he has been prevented from being able to rent someplace because of his record. That’s not right."

The mayor said the city could consider updating its fair housing ordinance, though she admitted she wasn’t sure “how much of a difference it would make” without the state lawmakers rewriting the law to explicitly ban housing discrimination based on a person’s criminal history.

Lyles also noted that it can be difficult for people to prove they were denied housing because of their criminal record. Regardless, she said she hoped the city would come up with some sort of solution.

“I don’t know the method that we can do it, but it’s something that we as a community need to do,” Lyles said.

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