The recent passage of the federal First Step Act could signal that Seattle’s Fair Chance Housing Act is lawful and should remain in force.

That city ordinance is being challenged in a Washington court. However, the aims of the First Step Act and its bipartisan support might underscore the necessity, and the importance of the Fair Chance Housing Act, in the Seattle area.

Anyone who has been convicted of a criminal offense in the past; and has tried to rent an apartment or a house in the Seattle area knows about the Fair Chance Housing Act. It was passed in August 2017, and went into effect in February 2018; preventing landlords from looking at criminal records of individuals who submit rental applications; or from using any criminal background information against rental applicants. There are exceptions, including for many convicted sex offenders. However, the law was designed to prevent discrimination against individuals who made mistakes, and served their sentences.

Landlords argue that the Fair Chance Housing Act violates their rights to due process; requiring them to take chances on tenants who may be more likely to breach a rental contract.

Yet the Seattle ordinance aims to prevent recidivism rates. The goal is to ensure people with criminal convictions have a place to live. This results in the ability to find decent jobs, support themselves, and become active members of the community. Without the Fair Chance Housing Act; many Seattle-area residents who have criminal records end up homeless and, in many cases, become subsequent offenders. Like the Fair Chance Housing Act, the First Step Act also aims to reduce recidivism rates.

According to Seattle criminal defense attorney Lennard A. Nahajski, the recent federal criminal justice reform measure is a step in the right direction; and it should send a signal to those in Seattle who are opposing the Fair Chance Housing Act.

As Nahajski explained, “the First Step Act’s expansion of early-release programs and sentencing reductions; makes clear that individuals convicted of criminal offenses deserve a second chance. Many individuals with criminal convictions deserve the opportunity to re-enter their communities; with the support systems they need to thrive.” The Fair Chance Housing Act exists in this vein; making clear that criminal convictions should not prevent people with misdemeanor or felony records from the possibility of renting a home and building a life in Seattle. The passage of the First Step Act could indicate to the Washington court that the Fair Chance Housing Act is constitutional and should remain in force.

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