Ex-Cons Would Get Housing, Employment Rights in SF

Employers and landlords would be forbidden to ask about peoples' criminal histories under a San Francisco plan.

Ex-cons are people, too. And the San Francisco Human Rights Commission won't let you forget it.

Rehabilitated former criminals, like the 7 million people who were former residents of the California state prison system, would enjoy new employment and apartment-seeking rights under proposals floated by the HRC, according to the San Francisco Appeal.

Employers would be forbidden to deny a job to ex-cons solely based on criminal history, similar to bans on denying employment on the basis of race, religion or sexual orientation, and landlords would be forbidden from asking about a prospective tenant's criminal history on a rental application.

This, the hope goes, would end the cycle of jail-poverty-homelessness-jail that makes the recidivism rate close to 60 percent -- that is, almost two-thirds of former convicts find themselves back behind bars, according to reports.

The law won't force landlords to rent to unsavory characters who are disqualified for other reasons, according to Theresa Sparks, director of the Human Rights Commission, but "just because they were arrested five or ten years years ago and haven't done it again...That's not a reason not to rent to them," she said, according to the newspaper.

The city's Apartment Association, a group of landlords and other offerers of rental-housing, says the laws are unnecessary, because federal legislation already provides such protections. "You cannot discriminate against people when they come to rent an apartment under the current federal fair housing laws," said Janan New of the SF Apartment Association. "In my opinion it would make it a moot point."

The Human Rights Commission will host hearings on the new protections next week. The housing protections are on tap for July 20 from 4 pm to 7 pm in Room 263 at City Hall, and employment protections are on the agenda for July 25, same time, but in room 400 of City Hall.

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