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Landlords, housing advocates clash over proposed bill preventing discrimination against formerly incarcerated

Connecticut State Capitol Building, January 17, 2021
Joe Amon
Connecticut Public
The state’s housing committee heard hours of testimony in a public hearing which centered on a proposed law preventing landlords from discriminating against residents with previous felony convictions.

Connecticut landlords and housing advocates are clashing over a proposed bill that would extend housing rights for formerly incarcerated residents.

The state’s housing committee heard nearly five hours of testimony in a public hearing Tuesday, most of which centered on a proposed law preventing landlords from discriminating against residents with recent felony convictions.

ACLU smart justice leader Leslie Caraballo, a Bridgeport resident who has a prior conviction, said the bill would make securing safe housing easier for formerly incarcerated residents.

“It’s not just looking at us it’s also working with the landlords as well, and I think that we keep missing that part that we’re trying to work with both sides,” Caraballo said.

Caraballo was sentenced to 20 years in prison, suspended after 12 served, for a 2008 manslaughter conviction. Caraballo, then 19, was one of four convicted in the death of a state psychiatric runaway.

Despite having paid rent on time, maintaining steady employment and having no further legal trouble, she and her four year old daughter have been denied housing based on her prior conviction, Caraballo said.

The bill’s protections would not extend to sex offenders or people convicted of producing methamphetamine in federally assisted housing.

This year marks the fifth time state legislators are considering iterations of the bill.

It would force landlords to rent to tenants who may make them feel uncomfortable, New Haven property manager Naomi Freeman said.

“This puts housing providers in a state of duress from being really afraid of being sued or some of the different legal repercussions if they do not rent to an individual that they do not feel comfortable with,” Freeman said. “It’s also a form of indentured servitude because it’s not something they actually want to do with their property. Everybody should have housing but we're not qualified for this type of situation. For people that have been reformed, 100%, all day, but how do you make that decision?”

Under the bill, landlords must take into consideration circumstances surrounding the crime, including the offender’s age, sentence and behavior since prison release. Landlords would be prevented from using convictions more than three years old against rental applicants.

Abigail is Connecticut Public's housing reporter, covering statewide housing developments and issues, with an emphasis on Fairfield County communities. She received her master's from Columbia University in 2020 and graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2019. Abigail previously covered statewide transportation and the city of Norwalk for Hearst Connecticut Media. She loves all things Disney and cats.

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