BATON ROUGE, La (BRPROUD) – A big win for housing advocates and formerly incarcerated people fighting for fair housing, the Louisiana Housing Corporation has a new policy that will make securing affordable housing for anyone with a criminal record easier.
“Most people coming out of prison have a desire to be a good abiding citizen, not returning back to prison, but if we are locked out of opportunities then where do we go from there,” said Voice of the Experienced (VOTE) organizer Ivy Mathis.
Ivy Mathis spent 26 years incarcerated before her release. After various jobs, she joined VOTE, a network of incarcerated people, formerly incarcerated people, and their loved ones. VOTE is an organization dedicated to restoring full rights and civil rights to those impacted by the criminal justice system.
The new policy by the Louisiana Housing Corporation ensures that people coming home can reunite with their families and have stable homes.
Mathis said after being released she worked hard and strived for perfection to fight the stereotypes, but she lived in fear.
“When I applied for my first apartment, I was approved, and it scared me,” said Mathis.
For many people like Mathis, convictions and records will follow them for years, even after they’ve paid debts to society.
“And now I was in a position to have a roof over me and my mother’s head, but I’m in fear and I didn’t tell her that every day I was walking in fear because if they found out, certainly, I would be put out because I don’t know how I was approved but it’s a blessing,” said Mathis.
Mathis, like many others who advocate for fair housing, believes that housing is a basic human need.
According to state housing officials, 49% of adults in Louisiana have a criminal record. Under this new policy, prospective tenants cannot be automatically rejected for past records.
The new policy will apply to 60,000 current affordable rental units across the state and new units moving forward.
“Not all people in prison are bad people, I’m hoping this policy makes it a statement, no longer can you do this,” said Mathis.
Multiple groups contributed to the drafting of the policy including the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center, Operation Restoration, Voice of the Experienced (VOTE), the Justice and Accountability Center of Louisiana, Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, and the Vera Institute of Justice.