Fifty years ago this month, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968, better known as the Fair Housing Act. The Fair Housing Act has gone a long way in securing the right to access a housing market that is free from discrimination based on national origin, race, color, religion, sex, disability, and familial status. This month we celebrate a historic milestone, reaching half a century of making a difference by reducing barriers to full and fair housing opportunities for all Americans. At the Arizona Department of Housing, we take seriously our responsibility to play a part in educating the public and upholding this law in all that we do.
Yet the ability to access housing is still a monumental struggle for far too many. Despite advances through fair housing law, some issues remain unresolved due to other complications in life. We all recognize the restraints that a low income puts on choices in housing. Some wrongly believe that money is the only thing that stands between an individual and a good home. But, there are other issues that can severely effect housing choices that are often not given as much thought.
The list of circumstances that can cause difficulties with housing sometimes seems endless . . .
Government cannot fix or address every situation, nor should it try. Many of the biggest issues fall squarely in the realm of personal responsibility. Yet, when government can work as a partner with others to find solutions to impediments, we should strive to do what we can. We are all better off as a society when people are adequately housed.
One population that desperately struggles to house themselves are those leaving prison. Inmates leaving Arizona’s correctional facilities generally have nowhere to call home when they finish serving their sentence. Having worn out their welcome with family and friends, with no money in their pocket, poor or no credit and/or rental history, and a criminal record, the majority of inmates leaving our prisons are poorly situated to find a permanent home.
The Arizona Department of Housing is currently working on Governor Ducey’s efforts to reduced recidivism. Knowing that an ex-offender who has secured decent housing is much less likely to reoffend and return to prison, we are working to find ways to help this often forgotten population. Two of these efforts include education. Educating Arizona’s inmates in how to go about securing a place to live and what it takes to be a good renter is one of the strategies. Later this spring, the Department plans to begin working with the Arizona Department of Corrections to train Correctional Officers who conduct pre-release training to provide an intense 14-hour “Ready to Rent” training course. Many of those who end up in prison have never rented or have failed as renters and do not understand what it takes to be a good tenant. The second educational effort will be to provide Fair Housing Training to Arizona’s landlords, specifically addressing discrimination that can occur when a landlord fails to consider a potential renter simply because they have served time in prison. The Department is partnering with Southwest Fair Housing on both of these initiatives.
As always, we are working hard at the State level to address impediments to housing. If you are reading this message, chances are you are working alongside of us and for that we are grateful.