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City of Seattle considers more lenient rental housing ordinance for felons

SEATTLE – Finding a place to live in the Puget Sound is a growing challenge for many of us.  It gets even tougher if you’re one of the estimated 173,000 felons in Seattle.

That’s why some City Council members have teamed up with civil rights groups to create new legislation that’ll make it easier for felons to get housing.

The new proposal is sparking controversy from renters associations and landlords who fear felons create a security and safety risk.

We met felon Shane Hill last month at a job fair.

“I have a background and I've been having a hard time,” said Hill.

Finding a job or housing isn’t easy with that permanent black mark on your history.

“Once you’ve served your time and paid your debt to society, you have an opportunity to find housing,” said Brenda Anibarro, property manager for Seattle's Office for Civil Rights.

So her office and other city leaders are proposing a new ordinance limiting how far back a landlord can look at a potential tenant’s criminal history from seven years to just two years.  It would also change how a landlord can use that information against a felon.

“Someone who got thrown in jail because they broke into someone’s house, beat someone severely, robbed them and then they went away for five years and then as a landlord you might even see that on their criminal background check.  You can’t use that against them under this proposal because they’ve been convicted more than two years ago,” said Sean Martin, external affairs director for the Rental Housing Association of Washington.

That’s why Martin says his organization is against the proposed ordinance -- and he’s not alone.  At the Overlook at Magnolia Apartments, property management sent a letter to every tenant -- several hundred people.

“Our concern is that this is not a long enough time from release for an individual convicted of a felony to earnestly seek and make personal changes to correct the behavior leading to the conviction,” said LeAnna Bell at Overlook at Magnolia Apartment Homes.

“There’s a concern about bottom line risk to property and to people,” said Martin.

But Anibarro says that fear isn’t based in fact.

“There’s plenty of data that shows that a criminal record does not indicate someone’s ability to be a successful tenant,” said Anibarro.

Martin says his organization understands a felon’s plight but wants some kind of compensation for landlords if their fears happen.

“Some financial guarantees if the person happens to commit another crime at the property and is taken away and the landlord is made whole on their rent or damages that may occur,” said Martin.

There’s one big exception to this proposed ordinance: sexual offenses.  Any felon convicted of a sexual crime will not be eligible for the same access to housing as other felons under the proposed legislation.