One of the biggest challenges that every felon has to face after getting out of prison is finding suitable housing. Some people are lucky enough to have family or relatives that they can live with. However, many ex cons have nowhere to go, and often end up in half way houses or homeless.
Lack of housing choices often leads to a life of crime on the streets, and eventually back behind bars. Unfortunately, our government does not do enough to help felons properly integrate back into society.
Even felons who are able to find employment have a very hard time getting stable housing. Most landlords and property management companies have strict rules about renting to individuals with criminal records.
However, you should never lose hope and there is help available for felons and their families who a place to live.
If you have a felony conviction and are looking for emergency housing assistance, here are options and resources to consider.
Catholic Charities housing help
Catholic Charities USA is one of the biggest Christian organizations in the US that services disadvantaged individuals in every state. They provide assistance with food, housing, work, health and other necessities, and have been helping to reduce poverty in America for over 100 years.
On their website, you can search for a local Catholic Charities branch in your state. They may offer financial grants as well as transitional, temporary housing to felons that would qualify.
In addition to Catholic Charities, its in general a good idea to contact local religious organizations and ask for housing assistance.
While many religious non-profits and churches may not offer you an actual place to stay, they may connect you to organizations and resources that could help you search for affordable housing.
Local emergency housing nonprofits
Every state has a number of non profit organizations that are dedicated to fighting homelessness. They are funded both by the Federal and state governments, as well as private donors.
These organizations offer temporary and transitional housing units for families, people will illnesses such as HIV, mental health issues, criminal convictions and disabilities. They are committed to helping individuals and families in crisis to avoid permanent homelessness and a life of crime that is often associated with it.
For example, Home First (https://www.homefirstinc.org) is one such organization that operates in New Jersey and offers a number of apartment units throughout the Union County.
Many felons are released into a halfway house immediately from prison. Others can seek residence at a local halfway house if they cannot find a suitable living arrangement. A halfway house offers free boarding in a structured environment, where there are certain rules and routines that need to be followed, as well as duties that each resident is assigned.
While offering a rigid environment, a halfway house is a good option for an ex convict to help integrate from prison back into regular society. This may be an especially good option for people who have no family or friends that can help them with housing.
A parole officer can provide a list of halfway houses near you. Another option is to search on the internet by entering “halfway house”. You will get local listings in your area.
HUD rental assistance programs
The Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, HUD for short, offers a number of resources to find low income housing for ex convicts.
Public housing – there are local low income housing developments where you can get an apartment. You need to apply with a local PHA. Don’t confuse this with Section 8! Public housing is a completely different program, and it has its own qualifications and wait times.
Housing resources search: use the HUD website (https://resources.hud.gov/) to find housing help in your area. They have listings of apartment rentals for low income individuals, local PHAs, homeless resources, as well as elderly and special needs housing.
Homeless counseling services
If you have a felony conviction and are currently homeless, HUD provides free counseling services to help you get into housing. Call (800) 569-4287 to speak to a professional from a housing counseling agency near you.
Homeless housing assistance
If you need emergency housing, HUD provides a listing of local homeless shelters and other programs that can offer immediate help. Filter your search by state, to find local agencies and shelters near you. (visit: https://www.hudexchange.info/housing-and-homeless-assistance/homeless-help/)
Why Section 8 housing is not the answer
In theory, Section 8 housing vouchers, a program subsidized by the federal government, could be a great solution for felons who are earning an income.
However, in reality, Section 8 more often than not fails to accommodate the needs of ex offenders for the following reasons:
– in most cities and towns, the wait list to get a Section 8 voucher is very long – it can take a few years to obtain one. In the meantime, there are very limited viable housing options available.
– most local housing authorities have very strict guidelines for people with criminal records. From criminal background checks to income verification, credit scores, etc, most ex-cons get denied their applications. Those who have been convicted of sex related, violent or drug related crimes should not even bother applying, as they will certainly be turned down.
– those felons who manage to get a Section 8 voucher still have a hard time renting an apartment because they get turned down by most landlords, who are afraid to take a risk with a potentially troublesome tenant.
Still, despite all of its shortcomings, Section 8 is one of the best options for felons to secure long term affordable housing. Once you qualify, you will be able to get up to 70% off your monthly rent, depending on your income!
We strongly recommend that you apply with your local HUD agency, because waiting a few years to get the voucher is still worth it in the end.
Finding stable work is key!
While many felons who have jobs can testify to the fact that employment does not guarantee you decent housing, the opposite is also true. Without a legal job (whether full or part time), you will not be able to get any housing.
Both private landlords as well as public housing programs require every applicant to provide proof of current income. So having a job not only helps you pay for the apartment, its also a requirement to apply for any type of rental property.
Here are some resources that will help you find felon-friendly jobs fast:
Part time work
Ridesharing (Lyft and Uber)