North Texas Daily

Home after prison: former convicts search for affordable housing in DFW

Home after prison: former convicts search for affordable housing in DFW

Home after prison: former convicts search for affordable housing in DFW
June 23
11:00 2022

This story is part of “Home After Prison,” a project produced through the Dallas Media Collaborative, an effort by Dallas-area news organizations and other partners to examine solutions to public issues. “Home After Prison” team members include Ileana Garnand, Lorena Rivas, Andrew Fancher, Alexis Castillo and Bianca Caraballo. View the full project here.

In Texas, approximately half a million residents can face completely legal housing discrimination due to their criminal records.

Texas has the highest incarceration rate of “any other democracy” according to the Prison Policy Initiative. When members of this population of 251,000 are released, they face barriers in finding affordable housing across the state, including the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.

To Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, trying to find any housing as a felon in the area is “a challenge at best.”

“You don’t have to even use the adjective affordable,” Price said.

Where recently released individuals are housed has an impact on their ability to be positive and self-sustaining members of society, according to the Texas Center for Justice and Equity. Rates of homelessness and recidivism — the likeliness of a felon to reoffend — decrease when former convicts have access to stable and affordable housing.

Programs that provide a stable roof, case management and peer services for ex-convicts see recidivism rates of 12 percent to 14 percent, according to TCJE. Programs that use a “treatment first” method have higher rates of around 50 percent.

Texas’ overall recidivism rate was 20.3 percent in 2020, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

As the DFW metroplex experiences a housing shortage, former convicts are competing against other potential tenants with higher incomes, better credit histories and no criminal records, said Karen Zahaluk, director of administration and operations at nonprofit Unlocking Doors. For those who do secure a residence, it sometimes comes at the cost of their health, as experienced by Rauchelle Southward, a local former convict who was incarcerated for 10 nonconsecutive years.

“When you have felonies, the types of apartments [available] are usually going to be rodent, prostitute and gang-infested, and if there’s none of that it’s probably infested with black mold,” Southward said.

After transitioning out of temporary housing, Southward moved into an apartment and fell seriously ill due to mold. He encountered the same mold problem at his next two residences as well, leading him to return to Trinity Restoration Ministries (TRM), a Dallas reentry facility for men.

Nonprofit work

Founded in 2004, TRM serves an average of 100 clients per year. Residents are either currently enrolled in the program or are graduates who are unable to find other adequate housing. To graduate, participants give a six-month commitment to take various life skills classes and are required to save at least $2,000.

“People make mistakes,” house manager Dave Aycock said. “Doesn’t mean they’re bad people, they just did something bad.”

TRM’s complexes currently have 33 bed spaces, with plans to offer a reentry facility for women as well.

The biggest problem the residents face is trying to find a job that pays enough to live off of, as well as find more permanent housing to move on to, Executive Director Dennis Gant said.

“We’ve got men that have been here over three years already and we only ask for a six-month commitment,” Gant said. “So that tells you they’re either having a hard time finding another place or they prefer not to even try because they’ve run into problems in the past.”

These issues include complexes that advertise as ‘background friendly’ but will only consider misdemeanor charges or property owners that accept former convicts’ application fees with no intention to accept them as residents.

“A lot of our guys have spent actually thousands of dollars on application fees, and it’s pretty much just a scam,” Gant said. “[The landlords] have no intentions of giving them housing, but they just collect the fee and send [them] on their way.”

Adequate housing exists in Dallas, it just needs to be brought up to a “certain standard of adequacy” through renovations, Gant said. The city government has expressed interest in assisting with this, Gant said.

“Things are really starting to move in that area,” Gant said.

City efforts

An example of the city’s recent initiative is the Joseph Lockridge Housing complex, a project Price worked on.

In spring 2022, Dallas partnered with the Regional Black Contractors Association to create a 70-unit public housing project in Oak Cliff that will serve as transitional housing for ex-convicts. The RBCA has facilitated a professional training program with local former convicts for several years and noticed that the largest challenge participants faced was having no place to reside despite obtaining stable jobs, Price said.

Residents of the complex are expected to live there for a short period of time — about a year — while the facility managers work to find them more permanent housing.

“It’s a whole recycling, retooling of individuals that have historically depended on a system to give them, seven days a week, everything from food, housing and make their decisions for them,” Price said.

The complex is named after one of Texas’ first Black state legislators after Reconstruction, whom Price said was a longtime advocate for fair housing. The project serves as a pilot for what Price hopes is a model project across Dallas.

“We’ve got to intersperse this within our communities in such a way that we show that we’re welcoming and that we’re willing to work with those individuals who need a serious reentry, not [just] giving them $2 and dropping them off in Dallas,” Price said.

The commissioner believes a combined effort from the government, nonprofits and private citizens is needed to address the affordable housing needs of former convicts. To some degree, the government created this problem and now it has “got to try and assist and resolve” Price said.

“We definitely don’t want to see these individuals become a revolving door and as such, we need to do all we can to assist them,” Price said.

Some private housing providers are also beginning to offer accessible housing to those with criminal records, with guidance from the federal government.

Federal guidelines

In 2016, The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development released guidelines regarding affordable housing for prisoners, which it recognized as “critical to their successful reentry to society.” HUD noted the country’s prison population “is by far the largest in the world” and over 95 percent of current inmates will be eventually released.

While not required by law, the policies urge housing providers to fairly distinguish between criminal conduct that “indicates a demonstrable risk to resident safety and/or property” and criminal records that do not.

These policies are followed by the members of the Apartment Association of Greater Dallas, said Director of Government Affairs Jason Simon. Before the HUD guidance, Simon said his organization saw some “pretty dramatic” blanket policies regarding tenants with criminal records. This included the rejection of any applicant who has a felony in the past 99 years regardless of individual circumstances.

“I think you did see a lot of companies change that when the HUD guidance changed,” Simon said.

Today, on top of the 2016 HUD guidelines, Simon said some Dallas landlords also use a “lookback period” when screening tenants, which disregards many felony charges if the conviction occurred before a set amount of years.

Simon said while one might imagine hearing “really scary” stories from property owners about renting to someone with a criminal background but his organization does not hear many.

Similarly, while many housing providers have specific clauses that exclude those with violent crimes, Gant said TRM experiences a higher successful rehabilitation rate with that population.

“With the men that have done that kind of time, we’ve actually got a 100 percent success rate because they’re not the same guy anymore,” Gant said. “They work real hard there and they appreciate the opportunity [to reintegrate] more.”

The current practice of releasing felons with no resources will often lead to recidivism, Aycock said. He believes without steady housing and support, they will turn back to crime to make the quickly accessible money they need to survive.

“We’re so much about punishment, we’re not so much about rehabilitation,” Aycock said. “That’s why this country is so high in prisons and in recidivism.”

Featured Image: Trinity Restoration Ministries house manager David Aycock. (Credit Alexis Castillo)

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Ileana Garnand

Ileana Garnand

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