The Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted 4-0 earlier this week to pass an ordinance that will ban landlords from using criminal background checks on potential tenants, becoming the first such county-wide ban in the Country.
The ordinance, also known as the Fair Chance Housing Ordinance, will prohibit both private and public landlords from mandatory arrest and conviction disclosure requirements In addition, all advertising that has language indicating that people with criminal backgrounds can not apply will be prohibited. However, those on the sex offender registry will not be included, with landlords being able to check for those people on the list.
The ordinance was created earlier this year due to a large number of unhoused people in Oakland and the rest of the County. Proponents pointed to a 2019 UC Berkeley study that found that 73% of those living in homeless encampments had been in jail at some point, with them arguing that such a restriction kept many from getting housing and helping keep up homeless numbers in both Oakland and the County as a whole.
“We know from studies and records, that about 73% of the unhoused residents in Oakland’s homeless encampments actually have criminal records,” said Xavier Johnson of the Just Cities Institute earlier this week. “So we can see that it’s been a barrier for them to access housing. We also know that a person who has a criminal record is about 10 times more likely to face homelessness on a whole.”
However, many apartment groups and tenant associations were strongly against the ordinance, denouncing it as being unsafe, that it would not help the unhoused situation, and that it pulls away from more pressing matters like building more affordable units.
“Alameda County needs more units, not more bureaucracy and more laws,” said the California Apartment Association this week. “Rather than focus on building affordable homes and lifting its eviction moratorium, the county is wasting time by adopting new limits on a landlord’s ability to protect the rights of their tenants and provide quality housing.
“Before placing new regulations on housing providers, the Board of Supervisors must lift the COVID era eviction moratorium which invites tenants to not pay their rent even if they never suffered a COVID related hardship. Alameda County should follow other cities across the state and end it’s outdated and legally questionable eviction moratorium rather than waste time on policies that won’t truly solve our housing crisis.”
The criminal background check ban
Many landlords also noted that the ban will likely not work, as there are numerous other methods they can use to find out.
“Asking for references from previous landlords undoes all of this,” said Avery Coleman, an Oakland landlord, to the Globe on Friday. “Seriously. If they can’t put any on there, or they have a huge gap between years, and it’s not the military there, it’s easy to find out. Sometimes they put down halfway houses too. It’s not even an extra step. This ordinance doesn’t really do much, because there are so many other avenues we can take to find out. I don’t see why they are cheering for this at all.”
Both Oakland and Berkeley had passed similar measures in 2020, but with the ordinance passed on Tuesday, it will now cover the entire county.
“The funny thing is, since Oakland passed that ordinance in 2020, homelessness didn’t go down,” added Coleman. “It went up. Not asking about a criminal background did nothing for those homeless rates. And now the law that doesn’t work is being expanded. What are they thinking?”
The ordinance in Alameda County is to come into effect beginning at the end of April of next yea after COVID-19 eviction moratoriums end.
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