It’s Time to Ban the Box on Housing

December 27, 2018

A letter from John Jones III, formerly incarcerated advocate and leader for the Ban the Box campaign:

When I was released from prison I returned to Oakland, where I was born and raised. After 14 years of being incarcerated, I hardly recognized the city I call home. I returned at the beginning of the tech boom in 2012 to find a housing market so competitive, even those with the best of circumstances were being pushed out. Friends and family couldn’t host me without jeopardizing their own housing security. My friends and family who lived in apartments with private landlords couldn’t let me stay more than a couple of nights without violating their leases. Many of them are long-time tenants with rent control, so their landlords would eagerly await any lease provision violation — like a guest staying too long — to try to begin eviction proceedings.

Looking for my own housing presented many obstacles, one of which was the question found on the bottom of most housing applications: ”Have you ever been convicted of a felony?”. If that little box was ticked, the application would go in the rejection pile immediately. There is nothing in the law that prevents landlords from asking that question, or in discriminating against people like me if the answer is ‘yes’. I found myself homeless for eighteen months.

Each application would ask me to check the box because of my felony record. In this process, I began to ask myself, “if society is serious about wanting people to turn their lives around, why are they making it so difficult?” Rehabilitation should mean restoring someone to their original status. Even after serving time, and demonstrating you have been rehabilitated and transformed, you’re still held back. Unable to secure a stable job without a stable place to lay my head, I was also unemployed. 

My story is not unique. In fact, those that have been recently released from prison are 10 times as likely to become homeless, compared to the general population. As I struggled with my own housing insecurity, I realized that the only place in America where you are guaranteed a roof over your head is in prison.

I began organizing in my community to empower myself and others like me. I’m now the Director of Community and Political Engagement at the Dellums Institute, working to remove barriers to housing for those that are formerly incarcerated. I’m proud to partner with TechEquity to launch the Fair Chance Campaign. Our campaign will focus on removing one simple, but important, barrier to housing: removing that little check box that allows landlords to discriminate against people like me.

We’re launching our Fair Chance Campaignto change the law in Alameda County and give system-impacted families a fair chance to access housing. Join us in making it happen.

With Gratitude,
John Jones III