About the Project

PHIWM is conducting a health impact assessment (HIA) to answer the question, “If housing providers changed policies and practices about criminal background checks, what affect would that have on health?” 

Why Conduct this Health Impact Assessment?

In 2019, the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts’ (PHIWM) Age Friendly City housing assessment found that older Black men in Springfield had a shared experience of not being able to secure affordable housing because of CORI (Criminal Offender Record Information) checks. The 2018 City of Springfield Housing Study concluded the same - CORI checks create affordable housing access inequities for Black men in Springfield, compounding existing housing inequities experienced by people of color in the City of Springfield and surrounding areas. Blacks and Latinos are consistently incarcerated in the Hampden County Jail at a rate about 3.5 times that of Whites[i], which means CORI checks have a disproportionate impact on people of color. Additionally, the affordable housing stock is limited.

Goals

The goals for this health impact assessment (HIA) about the health impacts of changing practices around the use of criminal background check in affordable housing decisions are:

  1. authentically engage a diverse representation of stakeholders, including older adults of color, in the HIA;
  2. make predictions and recommendations about selected policies and practices impact on equity and health in target communities;
  3. monitor changes in policy or practice through the implementation phase.

[i] Vera Institute of Justice. 2018. Incarceration Trends. Incarceration Trends, Hampden County, MA

What is an HIA?
HIA is a research and public engagement process designed to make predictions about how a policy or practice change would impact health and equity.  HIA is a six-step process that includes: Screening – identify a policy or practice change that is of most concern to comm…

HIA is a research and public engagement process designed to make predictions about how a policy or practice change would impact health and equity.  HIA is a six-step process that includes:

  1. Screening – identify a policy or practice change that is of most concern to communities facing inequitable health.
  2. Scoping – identify research questions of greatest interest to community stakeholders and decision-makers, and create the research and engagement plan.
  3. Assessment – gather baseline data and make predictions about how health and equity will change if the policy or practice changes are implemented.
  4. Recommendations – identify health- and equity-based recommendations responsive to the predictions made in the HIA.
  5. Reporting – create a report and other communications products to disseminate HIA findings in a strategic and inclusive way.
  6. Monitoring and Evaluation – continue engagement of all stakeholders and collect data to insure recommendations are implemented.

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The Policies & Practices Under Study

Our Advisory Committee directed us to study the impacts of 6 policies or practices:

  1. Limit the use of CORIs in housing application decisions to only mandatory HUD guidelines* once eligibility is determined
  2. Establish formal partnerships between housing providers and reentry organizations, behavioral health providers, and organizations that provide services to people experiencing homelessness and housing instability.
  3. Allow mitigating circumstances to be submitted during the initial application period without any requirement to disclose past convictions
  4. Create explicit criteria for denial that is available publicly
  5. Share population-level data about number of people denied housing, along with reasons for denials (including criminal background check), number of people requesting hearings, and the results of those hearings.
  6. Permit family members to house people with a CORI, excepting mandatory HUD guidelines

* The only criminal background that HUD mandates exclusion from public housing are 1) being registered on the lifetime sex offender registration list and 2) conviction for producing methamphetamines on federal property.  Exclusion for any other crimes is left to the discretion of individual LHAs.

HIA Advisory Committee

Funders

This health impact assessment is funded by Massachusetts Community Health & Healthy Aging Funds.

Reports & Presentations

  • Housing Rights for People with a Criminal History, 2021 Fair Housing and Civil Rights Conference, 4/26/21:  People with a record of incarceration, conviction, and arrest face steep barriers to finding affordable housing, due to screening requirements that - depending on the housing provider - can often end up as a blanket refusal with no consideration of the circumstances of their lives. For this reason, people who have been incarcerated have a 7 to 11 times higher risk of homelessness. This panel discussed the barriers and impacts that people face along with innovative solutions that are happening around the country and in Massachusetts. The panel was moderated by Kim Gilhuly.  Panelists included housing providers who have tackled this issue, advocates, researchers, and people directly impacted by mass incarceration and its collateral consequences.  Watch the recording now!

What's Next?

The final health impact assessment will be available in Summer 2021.