By: Helena Perray, Follow South Jersey Community Resources Intern
TRENTON, N.J. — On June 18, Governor Phil Murphy signed the Fair Chance in Housing Act during New Jersey’s first official celebration of Juneteenth as a state and federal holiday.
The signed legislation prevents landlords from questioning the criminal history of housing applicants – in most cases – and serves as a mark of Gov. Murphy’s continued efforts to rid the state of systemic racial disparities.
“As we commemorate Juneteenth, we must commit to both remembering the past and continuing to take action to ensure communities of color, especially Black Americans, achieve the full equity they deserve,” Gov. Murphy said in a press release. “Today, I am proud to sign the Fair Chance in Housing Act into law and work to level what has been for too long an uneven playing field when it comes to access to housing.”
According to Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver, this bill will serve to provide equal and affordable housing opportunities to citizens who have previously been court-involved – what she noted to be a “fundamental right to all citizens.”
Additionally, the bill will strive to reduce recidivism – the likelihood of convicted criminals to reoffend – within New Jersey communities. Because the inability to obtain stable housing has traditionally increased this likelihood among offenders, the bill will help encourage those who have been criminally convicted to move forward with equal opportunities and treatment.
“With today’s action, Governor Murphy has put New Jersey at the forefront of criminal justice reform by helping to dismantle the impacts of a criminal justice system plagued by systemic racism,” Fair Share Housing Deputy Director Eric Dobson said in a release. “Every person in our state deserves a home. The Fair Chance in Housing Act sits at the intersection of housing, civil rights and criminal justice reform and will make it easier for returning citizens to rebuild their lives by removing discriminatory barriers to housing that drive up recidivism. We would like to thank Governor Murphy, the bill sponsors and legislative leaders for championing this important reform.”
Although the bill will protect applicants from questioning in most cases, it will not be applicable to instances in which the federal law permits landlords to ask individuals about specific criminal convictions such as murder or sex offenses.
According to Frank Argote-Freyre, chair of the Latino Action Network Housing Committee, the bill will allow those who have been court-involved to reenter society without the actions and mistakes of their past weighing over their opportunities of the future.
“Today’s bill signing is the culmination of years of work. It was born of the notion that everyone deserves a second chance and that redemption is possible,” Argote-Freyre said in a press release. “Mistakes need not reverberate over time when it comes to finding safe and secure housing. Housing is an important element on the road back to a meaningful and successful life. This legislation makes it harder to discriminate against those who want a second chance.”
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This article was produced by a Follow South Jersey news intern thanks to a grant provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through the New Jersey Health Initiatives program to create hyper-local news to meet the informational and health needs of the City of Bridgeton, N.J.