The Board of Supervisors today approved rules restricting access to housing vouchers for those with criminal records, prompting protests from community activists for the homeless.
The new regulations are designed to comply with a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development mandate that all applicants for housing subsidies be treated equally.
In 2012, in an effort to help the chronically homeless, county officials created a more lenient set of rules that applied to 850 housing vouchers set aside for the long-term homeless. Staffers were directed to look back two years, rather than three, in checking for criminal offenses and to allow applicants on parole or probation to apply.
Stricter rules still applied to the thousands of applicants seeking Section 8 housing subsidies.
The 2012 changes were praised by community advocates, who said those living on the streets were prone to run-ins with the law, in part because they often suffer from severe mental illnesses or have problems with drugs or alcohol. Getting access to permanent housing with supportive services like mental health care is seen as key to helping that population thrive.
Now the county has reverted to a three-year look-back for everyone and prohibited all parolees and probationers from applying for any vouchers.
Advocates warned that the move would leave needy Angelenos out on the street.
"It puts people in a precarious position. Voucher subsidies are a vital part of preventing homelessness and creating stability for the people most vulnerable," said Fernando Gaytan of the Legal Aid Foundation.
Others argued that the restrictions were redundant.
"There are plenty of other criminal bans already in place ... (against those) previously evicted for drug-related crimes, (with convictions) for methamphetamine, currently engaged in illegal use of a drug, subject to lifelong sex offender registration, abusing alcohol, engaged in drug-related criminal activities," said Greg Spiegel with the Inner City Law Center.
Housing Authority Executive Director Sean Rogan told the board that there had been no change in the number of people approved for subsidized housing as a result of the less restrictive 2012 background checks.
Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky asked about Los Angeles' requirements, and Rogan told him that the city looks back three years in checking for evictions and two years for drug and other criminal offenses.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas urged his colleagues to push for legal and regulatory changes at the federal level that would take into account the special needs of the homeless population.
"Chronically homeless people are among the most vulnerable people in our society," Ridley-Thomas said. "(They) face unique barriers to qualifying for services, and the criteria to be used in housing this population should be able to incorporate these realities."
The board's vote was unanimous in support of the housing plan and 4-1 in favor of the Ridley-Thomas amendment. Supervisor Michael Antonovich cast the dissenting vote.
—City News Service