Criminal Record? Sorry, No Vacancy…

November 16, 2008 | Comments Off on Criminal Record? Sorry, No Vacancy…

CORI reform a step toward helping homeless

IN MASSACHUSETTS, if you are schizophrenic, homeless, and scared, you could be forced to wait for months for subsidized housing while landlords and housing agencies pore over your criminal record.

Each year, thousands of applicants for subsidized housing face a gauntlet of Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) checks and other barriers. These are our most vulnerable citizens — disabled, homeless, mentally ill, or just plain low income. They are the people we should be helping to find affordable housing as quickly as possible.

Instead, we make them wait.

As Governor Deval Patrick and state lawmakers consider reforms, they should examine ways to streamline the process. First, the number of CORI checks must be reduced. Landlords, housing authorities, and state agencies like the Department of Mental Health each conduct separate background checks. Because federal and state guidelines do not spell out exactly what offenses merit a denial of housing, each group applies its own criteria.

Some applicants are denied subsidized housing based on petty crimes such as vagrancy, or because their criminal-background reports contain information about dismissed cases — which should not be listed in the reports. Creating a uniform standard would eliminate the need for multiple CORI checks and reduce confusion.

“It can get frustrating,” says Bob Rubinstein, housing outreach coordinator for the New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans. “Our clients are moving into apartments, and they don’t know how long they’ll have to wait. Some try and never get in because of the extent of their criminal history. A lot of them end up moving back in with family and friends or drifting out of the shelter.”

Housing authorities and other state agencies should speed up their screening processes. Applicants for our affordable housing units at Nuestra Comunidad Development Corporation must wait eight to 10 weeks on average, and sometimes as long as three months, for their CORI checks to be completed.

In addition to taking too long, the system often shuts out ex-offenders who have made serious efforts to rehabilitate themselves. One former drug and alcohol abuser — we’ll call her Lisa — did everything she could to get her life back on track following a few run-ins with the law.


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    Harvard Black Law Students Association presents...
    Social Justice Week

    March 2nd - 6th

    Monday: Social Justice Week Kick-Off

    BLSA general body meeting featuring a special presentation by Noah Hood and the BLSA Social Justice Committee

    Langdell South 7:00 pm

    Dinner will be served

    Tuesday: Education

    Education Awareness Candy Campaign Learn about some of the problems facing Boston's youth, including the unfair and exclusionary expulsion policies

    Harkness Common 12:00 noon

    Wednesday: Housing

    Housing Recovery Acts in MA Some of the areas foremost housing activists will gather to discuss legislation concerning predatory lending practices

    Hauser 101 7:30 pm

    Refreshments will be served

    Thursday: Criminal Justice

    Sealing Criminal Records: Implications for Social Justice

    A panel of the leading voices in criminal justice reform will speak about criminal record information laws.

    Austin Hall 7:00 pm

    A Soul Food Dinner will be served.

    Friday: Criminal Justice

    CORI Sealing Training

    Criminal Record Sealing Training involves hands-on training. Participants will be able to help with upcoming CORI Sealing projects.