Programs » Housing Access Project

Criminal Record Discrimination

Discrimination is a significant problem in Seattle in two major areas — housing and the criminal justice system. A recent investigation by the Seattle Office of Human Rights confirmed that African Americans and People with Disabilities encounter frequent discrimination when applying for rental housing. A new U.S. Justice Department report revealed that there are serious concerns that some of the Seattle Police Department’s (SPD) policies and practices could result in discriminatory policing. The report also found that the SPD uses unnecessary or excessive force when arresting people for minor offenses – particularly people with mental health issues. Another report found that African Americans are significantly over-represented, and Whites under-represented among those arrested by the SPD for delivering drugs in Seattle. Statewide, African Americans are 62% more likely to be sentenced to prison than Whites for felony drug crimes. In WA, Blacks are incarcerated at more than 6 times the rate of Whites.

Misconceptions exacerbate the problem. Many people assume that if a person has any type of criminal history, then they will be a bad tenant This is incorrect. A Seattle study concluded that tenants with a criminal history and tenants without a criminal history met their tenant obligations equally over a two-year period.

The Tenants Union is combating this discrimination at the local and national level. The TU advocates for a Seattle Ordinance that would amend Seattle’s current anti-discrimination laws to limit the ways a landlord can use arrest or conviction records when making rental decisions. This would move toward ending discrimination against people whose past record does not related to their tenancy. At the federal level, the TU supports HUD issuing guidance and regulations that recognize the racial bias in our criminal justice system and prevent resulting housing discrimination created by such bias.

For more information, see Seattle Human Rights Commission’s Proposed Ordinance to End Arrest/Conviction Record Discrimination and Eliminating Barriers to Jobs and Housing