Breaking Down Barriers: Lessons from Housing and Justice System Collaborations
When people return to their communities after incarceration, they often face multiple barriers that can make it challenging to find affordable and stable housing, including restrictive state and local policies and widespread stigma related to their incarceration. These barriers are exacerbated by the already limited supply of affordable housing nationwide, making it difficult for city and state officials to prioritize people in reentry when multiple populations are struggling to obtain housing. However, studies have consistently shown that stable housing sets the foundation for successful reentry, allowing for people to address other needs, such as treatment, employment, and family support, when their basic need of housing is already addressed. To begin to reduce some of these barriers, corrections and reentry practitioners across the country have started working together with housing providers to build and leverage meaningful cross-system partnerships, increasing access to housing for people leaving prisons and jails. This article highlights four communities who are successfully undertaking this work.
Michigan Department of Corrections – Offender Success Reentry Program
The Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) began a reentry pilot program in 2005, which later evolved into a comprehensive statewide initiative with housing assistance as a major component. As part of the statewide program, MDOC’s reentry contractors subcontract with housing providers (such as motels, private landlords, and others) in more than 260 locations across Michigan, providing transitional housing to 2,000 to 3,000 people each year. Additionally, contracted reentry providers increase participant access to permanent housing by recruiting landlords willing to rent to participants exiting this transitional housing. To further increase access to long-term, affordable housing, MDOC began partnering with the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) in 2017 to provide housing choice vouchers for eligible MDOC participants. MDOC’s reentry contractors work with MSHDA to screen participants for eligibility, find landlords, and move participants into their own housing units, using these vouchers.
North Carolina – Leading into New Communities (LINC)
North Carolina’s Leading into New Communities (LINC) is a comprehensive reentry program that offers wrap-around services, a transitional housing campus, multiple permanent housing units, and support with employment, mental health, substance use, and advocacy. LINC has significant experience working across the housing system, including partnering with public housing authorities, continuums of care, and landlords, as well as government entities. LINC also partners with local reentry councils to provide emergency and housing stabilization support. Since its inception, LINC has helped more than 3,000 people with a success rate of 85 percent. Last year alone, LINC provided housing for nearly 200 people.
Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction – Returning Home Ohio
The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) partners with the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH) and local housing providers to assist people with severe mental illness or chronic substance use disorders who are at risk of homelessness upon release through the Returning Home Ohio (RHO) program. Because of an expansion in eligibility for permanent supportive housing, RHO—a supportive housing program funded by the state—is able to assist people leaving state prisons, who have often been deprioritized for the intervention due to competing local and federal priorities, as well as limited resources. Through RHO, people are connected to permanent supportive housing through rental subsidies, ongoing landlord recruitment, and landlord/housing provider mediation, while receiving supportive services tailored to their individual needs and reducing their chances of reincarceration. Since 2007, RHO has connected nearly 1,000 people to permanent supportive housing. ODRC is currently working to expand RHO to additional counties through federal funding received from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs’ Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Second Chance Act Pay for Success grant program.
Pennsylvania Department of Corrections – Housing Assistance Program
Through Pennsylvania’s Housing Assistance Program (HAP), the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PADOC) works with homeless services providers, state and local governments, landlords and housing providers, and people who have previously experienced homelessness to develop and provide short-term rental assistance options. These are coupled with supportive services to quickly move people into private market housing. HAP prioritizes people with low incomes who are experiencing or are at risk of homelessness when returning from state prisons. Through county-led programs, people can receive up to 6 months of rental assistance plus 24 months of housing coordination services. In 2021, PADOC received a Second Chance Act Pay for Success grant to expand HAP eligibility to serve 250 people with very high barriers to housing (e.g., people with disabilities or no income). Since 2013, PADOC has worked with landlords and housing providers to help people quickly locate and apply for more than 2,200 available housing units.
State and local leaders interested in launching their own housing and justice system collaborations can visit the following resources for more information:
- HUD Launches Agency-Wide Effort to Reduce Housing Barriers for People with Criminal Records: This article outlines an April 2022 memo from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Secretary Marcia Fudge to every program office instructing them to review and propose changes to all relevant regulations and guidance documents to reduce barriers for people with criminal records.
- Thinking Outside the Box: Cross-Sector Strategies to Create Housing Opportunities for People with Behavioral Health Needs Leaving the Justice System: This five-part webinar series covers key concepts to help state and local justice leaders develop meaningful collaborations with housing, behavioral health, and other key partners to provide and develop housing for people leaving the justice system.
- Video: The Life-Changing Impact of Reentry Housing: To highlight the elevated risk of homelessness, collateral consequences, and stigma people leaving incarceration face when obtaining post-release housing, the CSG Justice Center interviewed people from communities across the country to share their experiences accessing and providing reentry housing.
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