Rules to address bias in housing
Ordinance outlaws refusal to show, rent in some cases
Cook County commissioners on Thursday approved an ordinance aimed at ending housing discrimination against people with arrest records.
Dubbed the “Just Housing” ordinance, the measure makes it illegal to refuse to show property or rent housing to people with certain criminal records.
It doesn’t apply to sex offenders or people who have a criminal conviction that, after an “individualized assessment,” shows that denial based on the conviction “is necessary to protect against a demonstrable risk to personal safety and/or property of others affected by the transaction.”
The rules around the “individualized assessment” will be made by the Cook County Commission on Human Rights, which will then bring them to the board for approval, commissioners said.
Only Republican commissioners Pete Silvestri and Sean Morrison voted against the ordinance.
Commissioner Brandon Johnson, the ordinance’s chief sponsor, said the bill had “the sole purpose of ending discrimination against families and returning citizens who have been plagued and haunted by the vestiges of Jim Crow.”
Housing is one of the “greatest challenges” people returning from prison or jail face, he said.
Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle praised commissioners for backing “a policy that will help stabilize the lives of so many of our county residents.” She said the ordinance balances inclusion and safety.
“If the ordinance is properly implemented, no landlord, neighbor or fellow resident will be unnecessarily exposed to any risk or harm,” she said.
Commissioner Dennis Deer spoke about the need for second chances and to let people move forward with their lives.
“There’s no room for double jeopardy. People should not be required to pay over and over and over again for a crime they committed when they were 19,” Deer said. “It’s just insane.”
Commissioner Kevin Morrison echoed Deer.
“We should not be a country that continues to penalize those who already served their time,” Morrison said. “We need to make sure we are sending a (message) that we should not be held to account solely based on our past but what we wish to do in the present and into the future.”
Commissioner Alma Anaya commended Johnson, saying the bill is “an important step in advancing the fact that housing is a human right.”
“Criminalization and the collateral consequences of criminal records have a direct negative impact on people with low incomes and people of color,” Anaya said.
An attorney who spoke before the board said she was concerned by how fast the bill went through and said she felt the landlords weren’t given enough opportunity for comment.
She said it can be very difficult to evict a tenant, and perhaps the board should consider making it easier to accomplish that if there are problems.