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Speakers Discuss Realities of Qualifying Tenants with Criminal Histories, Disabilities at Novogradac LIHTC Conference

Published by Mark Shelburne on Monday, June 3, 2024 - 11:58AM

Two affordable rental housing experts joined me and spoke at the Civil Rights Considerations in Supportive Housing breakfast May 2 before the Novogradac 2024 Affordable Housing Conference in San Francisco.

Jacy Gaige, Caroline Bas and I discussed the complex realities of qualifying tenants during the breakfast.

Gaige, acting director of the Office of Enforcement for the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), discussed the challenges of qualifying tenants with criminal histories, particularly for minor, long-ago infractions.

She described the state of HUD’s guidance, which saw a major reshaping during the final years of President Barack Obama’s administration. The guidance removed the blanket exclusion of all individuals with a prior conviction, although exemptions remained for denying occupancy for some specified drug-related offenses. 

President Joe Biden’s administration is shaping and refining these goals, with a 2023 HUD announcement bringing guidance and technical assistance for public housing authorities as well as owners and managers who operate within HUD programs. As an example of the need for increased protections, Gaige shared a story of someone who was denied residency because they were caught fishing without a license decades earlier.

In April, the Biden administration proposed a rule to amend regulations for HUD-assisted properties concerning admission for applicants on the basis of illegal drug use, drug-related criminal activity or other criminal activity. The proposed regulations would require public housing authorities (PHAs) and HUD-assisted housing owners to consider multiple sources of information, including the recency and relevance of prior criminal activity. The proposed rule text aims to clarify existing PHA and owner obligations and reduce the risk of violating nondiscrimination laws. Comments on the proposed rule are due no later than June 10.

Bas, chief operating officer for The Kelsey, a Bay Area-based housing developer with a focus on centering the perspectives of people living with disabilities, discussed the intricacies involved in building supportive housing. “This is who we, as an industry, should be serving,” said Bas.

Bas noted that The Kelsey not only seeks to be a developer, but to create a community cultural resource for disability-focused housing and housing advocacy. The organization’s Learn Center seeks to share information with other community development and affordable housing professionals, including providing disability-forward leasing agreement documents, community guidelines/house rules, grievance procedure forms, and a reasonable accommodation and modification policy.

One attendee noted the difficulty of complying with federal accessibility requirements. I explained that while it may be difficult or frustrating in the moment, the cost of having such issues caught later during inspection would result in the additional cost of making changes plus fines on top of that, which can be significantly more expensive.

The discussion then moved to a story of a tenant who made life complicated for their neighbors partially through uninhabitable conditions in their apartment and a truculent attitude. Speakers noted that there are reasonable limitations to guidance–tenants shouldn’t negatively affect their neighbors, for example.

Bas also mentioned the March introduction in the U.S. Senate of the Boosting Tax Credits for Accessible Housing Act, which would provide a 50% basis boost for affordable housing properties financed by low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) equity if they meet certain standards to serve residents with disabilities.

Continue Learning with Novogradac 

Novogradac hosts numerous conferences throughout the year. To attend Novogradac’s next affordable housing conference, where there will be another social impact breakfast, visit the Novogradac 2024 Housing Tax Credit and Bonds Conference home page.

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