Public Housing Program and the Housing Choice Voucher Program
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds several different types of subsidized housing. These programs are managed by local public housing authorities. Public housing authorities administer the Public Housing Program and also administer the Public Housing Voucher Program (formerly called Section 8).
- You can find the contact information for the public housing authority closest to where you live online at www.hud.gov/offices/pih/pha/contacts.
- Click on Colorado on the US map. Scroll down the list. Almost every county has a public housing agency.
- You can also call the regional HUD office in Denver at 303.672.5372 to find the public housing authority closest to where you live.
To get started with the process of applying for housing, call your local public housing authority and ask if they are currently accepting applications, and if so, for which programs. Many housing authorities will offer preferences to people with disabilities and to those who work or live in a particular area. Be sure to ask about preferences when you call. You may be eligible for either the Public Housing Program and/or the Housing Choice Voucher Program.
There is a lot of demand for subsidized housing. If you’re approved to apply for housing, there can be a long waiting period before the housing becomes available.
By law, the public housing authority may not admit anyone (including his/her household members) for the following reasons:
- if any member of the household was evicted from federally assisted housing for drug-related criminal activity within three years (someone with a drug conviction who successfully completed treatment may be approved),
- if the public housing authority believes that a member of the household engages in illegal use of a drug,
- if any member of the household was convicted of manufacturing or producing methamphetamine on the premises of federally assisted housing, or if any member of the household is subject to sex offender registration requirement.
- The reality is that HUD subsidized housing may not be an option for most people with a criminal conviction. HUD states on its website that housing authorities “will deny admission to any applicant whose habits and practices may be expected to have a detrimental effect on other tenants or on the project’s environment.
However, if you are approved for the Housing Choice Voucher Program, some private landlords who accept housing vouchers will accept people with a criminal record. Each landlord determines the crimes that disqualify someone from living in his or her rental unit.
If you apply for public housing and you are denied, you must be told the process to appeal the decision. If you wish to appeal, gather evidence to indicate why the decision should be overturned and seek the assistance of a local community agency. Letters of support from landlords, employers, mentors, church organizations, family members, etc., could be helpful, as could evidence of successful treatment (e.g., certificate of graduation from a substance abuse program). Be prepared to talk about your case in a positive manner.
TIP: If you’re not eligible to live in subsidized housing and you stay with a family member or friend who lives in subsidized housing–even for one night, that person could be evicted and lose their housing assistance. Also, if you use their address as a place of residence on any application (e.g., driver’s license, parole sponsor), that could be used to evict your friend or family member from public housing.
Renting a home
Once you have a job and/or benefits that are a steady source of income, renting a home in the private market could be an option. Ask around. Your network of friends and families may know of a place to rent. DOC community re-entry specialists and parole officers may also know of landlords who will rent to someone with a conviction. In addition, the organizations listed earlier in this chapter under long-term housing may offer rental counseling that could be of help.
- Large apartment complexes almost always require criminal background checks and credit checks, and most of them also charge an application fee. Always ask if an apartment complex has a policy about not renting to people with a criminal conviction before you pay an application fee.
It may be easier to rent from a landlord who owns just one or two properties because s/he might rely more on individual judgment than on policy and procedure when selecting a tenant. For example, one landlord said he would rent to someone with a criminal conviction depending upon that person’s history, honesty, and attitude about the future. If the landlord felt someone was really trying to turn his life around and had the skills necessary to keep a job and pay rent, he was willing to take a chance with that person. This type of landlord may be more willing to take a chance with you than a large apartment complex that has a blanket policy of not accepting anyone with a felony conviction.
- If you were to offer to accept a month-by-month lease, a landlord might be more inclined to take a chance with you.
- An offer to provide your landlord with your parole officer’s contact information (if that’s okay with your parole officer) could also make a landlord feel more confident about renting to you.
- A landlord wants to know that his or her property will be taken care of and that the rent will be paid on time. Therefore, if your work is only temporary, your source of income looks insecure and you won’t look like a good prospect as a tenant. A landlord wants to know that you have a steady income.
- Almost every landlord requires a security deposit. This amount is usually the total of one to two month’s rent. If you are able to offer a larger security deposit than requested, this could decrease a landlord’s concern about renting to you because of a criminal record or low credit score. (See chapter 19 for more information about credit scores.)
It’s not uncommon for a landlord to ask for a larger security deposit when there is a perception of increased risk.
TIP: Bring a copy of your background report from CBI and your credit report (if you have it) to your meeting with a landlord. S/he may be willing to wave the application fee.
When you talk to a prospective landlord, you will want to sell yourself just as you would in a job interview.
Make a good first impression by dressing appropriately, arriving on time, and bringing the information you need to fill out a rental application. If you are going to have a roommate, most landlords require that all adults complete a separate application.
An application will usually ask for the following information:
- your Social Security number and driver’s license number,
- the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of current and past employers and landlords
- bank and savings account information, verification of income, credit card information
- names and addresses of people you can use as a reference
Many landlords do a criminal background check and credit check on potential renters. If you know that a landlord is going to check your background, don’t lie or mislead that person, especially if you think that person is willing to take a chance with you. Honesty is almost always the best course of action. Be prepared to discuss your criminal record as well as your plans for success and the steps you have and are taking to get there.
A landlord can ask you:
- about your job and how long you have worked there
- how much money you earn and how often you are paid
- how many people will live in the apartment or house (although a landlord can’t refuse to rent to you because you have children)
- whether you have ever been convicted of a felony
- whether you are a registered sex offender
A landlord cannot ask you:
- your race, ethnicity, or national origin
- your religion or religious beliefs
- your sexual orientation or marital status
- whether you have mental or physical disabilities
The reality is you may need to look at less desirable housing options in order to find someplace to live when you are first starting out. Unfortunately, this means you may have you live in a place where you don’t want to live. Think of this as a stepping stone.
TIP: If you give a landlord any money before moving in, ask for a receipt that specifically states what that money is for. Getting this money back may become very difficult without a receipt.
Read your lease before you sign it
Tenants have a number of rights in Colorado. A lease frequently spells out how these rights are applied to the tenant. Read your lease carefully before you sign it. Sometimes in the euphoria of finding a place to live, people don’t take the time to fully understand what they are agreeing to when they sign a lease.
For example, a tenant has the right to be given notice by a rental property owner or manager before s/he enters a rental residence except in an emergency. However, if a lease says that the landlord can enter the property at any time, s/he can do just that.
You also have the right to be told about any raise in rent in writing. If you accept a month-by-month lease, your rent may be raised monthly. This is the advantage of a longer-term lease.
You have the right to a prompt response to any written request for repairs. However, if a lease says that the tenant is responsible for all repairs, then the tenant is responsible for any necessary repairs. The point is that you must read and understand your lease before you sign it.
TIP: If you don’t have a good housing reference from your past, see if you can get a good reference from your employer. The landlord wants to be reassured that you’re going to be able to pay the rent and take good care of the property, so if a landlord can hear from your employer that you’re doing well at work, s/he may be willing to give you a chance.
Resources for renters
Advocates for Change 303.363.9892 www.advocates4change.org
Advocates for Change is an organization that provides personal and political support for people convicted of a sex offense. They may be able to provide you with housing leads.
This website is sponsored by the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority and the Colorado Division of Housing. It lists a lot (but not all) of the affordable housing available throughout Colorado. Click on Search for Housing, then click on Find a Home to Rent. The housing is arranged by city and region. Remember to always ask about policies regarding people with a criminal conviction before you pay an application fee.
SonRise Properties, LLC 720.334.2949 www.sonriseproperties.info
1155 S. Havana Street, Suite 11-473, Aurora, CO 80012-4062
The owners of SonRise Properties work with a number of other businesses in the Denver metro area who have subdivided single family homes into shared living arrangements. The houses are for five to six people, with rooms either private or shared. The cost starts at around $110 a week including utilities.
Buying a home
A criminal record will not keep you from buying your own home. If you can afford it, buying a home or townhouse may be the best way to avoid the discrimination that people sometimes face in the rental market. In fact, the market for buying a home has changed so dramatically over the past couple of years that now may be a better time than ever to look into buying your own home.
To qualify for a standard mortgage, you need to demonstrate a steady income for at least a year. There are exceptions to this, but generally speaking, most people need a record of stable employment.
- If you have a low credit score, you need to show that you have spent at least the last six months to a year working to improve your standing with creditors.
- If you only use cash and don’t have a bank account or credit card, you probably don’t have a credit rating or score, so you’ll need to have proof that you pay other bills such as rent, utilities, and telephone on time.
- See chapter 19 for information about places where you can financial counseling to help you establish a bank account and improve your credit score.
If you’re a first-time home buyer who doesn’t have the money saved for down payment and closing costs, you may be able to qualify for some down payment and closing cost assistance. These programs are like a second mortgage that you eventually pay off at a zero percent or low interest rate. You will be required to put some of your own money toward the down payment. Sometimes the money available through down payment assistance grant programs expires or is not replenished by the funding source, so don’t base your purchase goals on an expectation that such funding will be available.
- You can learn more about these programs from Colorado Housing and Finance Authority and Colorado Housing Assistance Corporation, listed below.
- You can also learn about individual development accounts (IDA) in chapter 19. IDAs can help you
save money to buy a house.
The amount of money you borrow should be realistic. Just because a lender is willing to loan you a certain amount of money doesn’t mean that you should borrow that much. Remember, if you borrow too much and too much of your monthly income goes toward housing expenses, you may not have enough left over for other regular expenses, let alone unexpected expenses like car repairs.
- One rule of thumb is that your housing costs should not be more than 30% of your household’s gross monthly income (gross income is total income before taxes are taken out).Your housing costs should include your mortgage payment (principal and interest), property taxes, homeowners or condo insurance, homeowners association payment (if any), and all utilities (gas, water, electric, etc.).
TIP: For most housing, the Fair Housing Act prohibits the owner renting or selling a property from discriminating against anyone on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or handicap. For more information about the Fair Housing Act, look online at www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/FHLaws/yourrights.cfm.
Resources for buying a home
Colorado Housing and Finance Authority and Colorado Housing Assistance Corporation help people with a low-to-moderate income learn about buying a home. Their classes are free, and they don’t discriminate based on your criminal conviction. These organizations can tell you what you need to look for in a lender and real estate broker and whether or not buying a home is right for you. If you decide to buy, they could form part of your “team” of experts along with your licensed real estate broker and loan officer. It is good to get this free education before you start looking for a home.
That way you can make more informed choices from the very beginning.
Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA) 303.297.2432, 800.877.2432
Western Slope Office 970.241.2341
1981 Blake Street, Denver, Colorado 80202 www.chfainfo.com
CHFA offers programs to first time and non first time homebuyers, down payment and closing cost assistance, and free home buyer classes to people throughout Colorado. Their website has information about their programs. You can also call to speak to someone immediately.
Colorado Housing Assistance Corporation 303.572.9445
670 Santa Fe Drive, Denver, CO 80204 www.coloradohousingassistance.org
Colorado Housing Assistance Corporation is a nonprofit organization that helps low-income people throughout Colorado. They offer free first time home buyer workshops in the Denver metro area. They also offer down payment and closing cost assistance for first time home buyers. To get started with the program, you need to register online for the first time home buyer workshop.
TIP: Some of the organizations that provide long-term housing assistance may have information about neighborhood stabilization programs. These programs help revitalize neighborhoods where a lot of homes were foreclosed. Through a neighborhood stabilization program you might receive some
assistance buying a home in one of these neighborhoods.