Recap: General Meeting on Examining Criminal Backgrounds and Housing – July 16 ,2015

This month’s meeting was another brought to you jointly by the King County Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the Coalition on Homelessness. We brought together a great team of folks to help us examine criminal backgrounds and housing. The room was packed with over 60 representatives from member organizations and more. Among those in the room were API Chaya, Pike Market Senior Center, Housing Justice Project, The Mockingbird Society, King County 2-1-1, Washington Family Counseling Serice, WSCADV, Theraputic Health Services, Organization for Prostitution Survivors, Valley Cities, Consejo, Urban Rest Stop – LIHI, Wellspring, YWCA, YMCA, King County Public Defense, REACH/LEAD, King County Housing Authority, Year Up, Jewish Family Services, Seattle Housing Authority, Housing Development Consortium, Lake City Taskforce on Homelessness, City of Seattle Human Services Department, Victim Support Team, Capitol Hill Housing, Multi-Service Center, City of Seattle Office of Housing, Columbia Legal Services, Carolyn Downs Clinic, Compass Housing Alliance, City of Kirkland, Bellwether Housing, Columbia Care, and the King County Department of Public Defense. Thank you all for joining in a great conversation!

On the agenda . . .

Examining Criminal Backgrounds and Housing

As an introduction to this much larger topic, we enlisted the help of local researchers, practitioners, and experts to guide us through the basics of what we know and what we are doing within our community regarding criminal backgrounds and housing, both market rate and subsidized.

I. What We Know, Part 1: Research. Madeline Neighly of Columbia Legal Services’s Institutions Project and Margaret King of Downtown Emergency Service Center walked us through two important pieces of research, and future policy changes, such as bringing Ban the Box, which has worked with employment, to the housing sector.

II. Background: What has been happening, and why is the Office of Housing involved? Maureen Kostyack of the Seattle Office of Housing led us through a helpful presentation, covering four topics: 1) mass incarceration and racial disproportionality in the criminal justice system; 2) Fair Housing: disparate impact or disparate treatment?; and 3) criminal background screening reports: a fair assessment of risk?; and 4) increasing access to housing — ongoing efforts in Seattle. See below to download both Maureen’s presentation and also Office of Housing’s guideline for selecting a tenant screening agency. 

III. What We Know, Part 2: The charges that make becoming house harder.  Peter Qualliotine, Martha Linehan, and Debra Boyer of The Organization of Prostitution Survivors (OPS) spoke about the impact of charges related to prostitution and sex work. For example, landlords don’t want to rent to people with these charges because they are fearful the tenant will continue to work out of their unit. OPS and other groups have worked hard to advocate for changes at the local level: increase the penalty on buyers, make referrals to services for women instead of charging them, and never charge a juvenile with prostitution. Peter spoke about the need to also change social norms around prostitution. There very clearly exists a hierarchy and judgement towards those who engage in sex work. OPS is available to lead staff training on these issues.

  • To set up a staff training or to learn more, contact Peter at OPS:, 206.988.5463 x 804

IV. An open discussion about Reducing Barriers. Questions ran the gamut, and made clear the need for a future Case Manager Training, which the Coalition’s gearing up to take on. Topic of interest included: are landlords requests for higher deposits congruent with fair housing; what leverage exists to get landlords on board; what’s flexible and what’s (il)legal; how can one clean up their record, or assist others in doing so; how would the Office of Civil Rights investigate certain cases/issues?

Last, we heard from representatives of three housing organizations that worked with the Office of Housing to loosen eligibility requirements and blanket exclusions, as well as insert individualized assessments. Jennifer Westerman & Sarah Barnes of the Seattle Housing Authority, Rachael Simpson of Bellwether Housing, and Tristan Heart of Capitol Hill Housing each spoke about their process, the changes, and what they’ve learned so far. Jennifer encouraged providers to remind applicants to not screen themselves out because rules and processes have changed for the better. Tristan offered that, while anecdotal, Capitol Hill Housing hasn’t seen an increase in eviction nor violence at properties, affirming that one’s criminal record isn’t a good indicator of whether they will be a good tenant.

V. Additional Resources. Jason Austin with King County 2-1-1 announced that 2-1-1 produces ex-offender and sex offender reentry packets, containing helpful information and resources. Both can be found and downloaded from their website. Clients are welcome to call 2-1-1 and ask for this information to be mailed to them, particularly if they are currently incarcerated.


Thank you for a great meeting! We’ll be back with more information, especially about a related Case Manager Training.

Please note: the Coalition will not host an August General Membership meeting, but do continue to attend population committee meetings in August. Visit our website for meeting dates and times.