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Louisville Ex-Felons May Get Chance at Section 8 Assistance

Affordable housing got a boost in this year's city spending plan.

Louisville residents with a history of drug or violent felony offenses may no longer be barred from receiving federal Section 8 housing assistance.

The Louisville Metro Housing Authority is weighing the change at the suggestion of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said Tim Barry, the city housing authority's director.

A public comment period for the rule change is ongoing. The change would need approval from the housing authority's board before taking effect next year.

Some caveats will exist, however.

Residents who've been convicted of manufacturing methamphetamine on public housing property or who are lifetime registered sex offenders will remain ineligible for federal housing assistance. And anyone who has been evicted from federally assisted housing due to a drug-related criminal activity within the past three years would also be ineligible.

Barry called the change a "step in the right direction."

The housing authority does not act as landlords for Section 8 recipients, he said. The agency only administers the housing vouchers. That means potential renters are still subject to criminal background checks by landlords, he said.

But removing the additional level of scrutiny allows Section 8 recipients to be "treated just like everybody else who's renting."

"We don't need to have a double wall with our applicants," Barry said.

He called the added checks that have been in place for years "unnecessary and inappropriate."

There's no way to tell how many people have been turned down for assistance due to a felony criminal background. The Metro housing authority has more than 17,000 people on a waiting list for Section 8 vouchers.

The policy change also goes a step beyond allowing Section 8 recipients to be treated like ordinary renters. Prior and current policies for Section 8 eligibility for felony offenders has the potential to separate families, said Cathy Hinko, executive director of the Metropolitan Housing Coalition. In some cases, families in which a member is a felony offender must live in separate residences because of the Section 8 policy.

Hinko said the proposed policy change is "an incredible step to help reunify families." It also may help the housing authority serve more residents, she said.

"When you get these unified families, you may have another wage earner who then, when you count their wages, will lower the amount of assistance per family," she said.

Hinko called the move a good example of how housing policies should be reexamined in light of the recent Supreme Court ruling that allows people affected by discriminatory housing policies to sue, even if the bias was not intended.

"You explore a policy, and you roll it back if it's hurting a protected class more than others," she said.

Barry, of the housing authority, does not anticipate much opposition to the proposal. If approved by the agency's board later this month, it will go into effect at the start of 2016.

Public comment on the policy will be accepted through Dec. 14.

Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.
Jacob Ryan joined LPM in 2014. Ryan is originally from Eddyville, Kentucky. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.