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Vera Institute of Justice - Opening Doors - How to develop reentry programs using examples from public housing authorities, 2017

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September 2017

Opening Doors:
How to develop reentry programs using
examples from public housing authorities
John Bae, Kate Finley, Margaret diZerega, and Sharon Kim

From the Director
Securing housing is one of the greatest challenges for
people who are released from prison and jail, especially
in localities where safe and affordable housing are
in short supply. Stable housing is also critical for the
success of formerly incarcerated people and therefore
for public safety. Many different types of landlords
have restrictive admissions policies that pose an
additional barrier to overcome once people are released
from incarceration. For reentry service providers and
other stakeholders that provide supports to formerly
incarcerated people, the success of connecting the
people they serve with housing is often undermined
by the scarcity and restrictions. These barriers and
challenges to housing stability require innovative
practices and programs that provide people with places
to live and holistic services to support their success
after incarceration.
In cities and counties large and small, public housing
authorities have heeded that call and developed
reentry programs to support safe housing for formerly
incarcerated people and their families. This guide, which
draws from the best practices and lessons learned from
11 housing authorities, documents the steps, processes,
and factors public housing authorities and partners
should consider when implementing programs and
policy changes for people with conviction histories. The
housing authorities that shared their wisdom with us

represent varying geographic regions, urban and rural
settings, and range in size from serving several hundred
families to more than 174,000 families.
The housing authorities highlighted in this guide are
using existing housing stock to prevent homelessness
and reduce recidivism. Further, some are reunifying
families through their programming and partnering
with other agencies (such as social service providers,
community corrections, and others) to provide
wraparound services to address the varying needs
of formerly incarcerated people. These programs
offer tangible solutions to address one of the biggest
barriers of returning citizens while alleviating the
burdens of agencies that help people get back on their
feet post-incarceration. We hope the program models,
partnerships, and lessons documented in this guide
serve as a framework for a national strategy to tackle
the issue of housing for formerly incarcerated people,
an essential step in promoting successful reentry,
enhancing public safety, and strengthening families and
communities.

Fred Patrick
Director, Center on Sentencing and Corrections
Vera Institute of Justice

Contents
4	

Using the guide

7	

Background: Housing and reentry

9	

Design and implementation

	 10	Partnerships
	

13	

Program model

	

19	

Securing funding

	

20	

Prospective applicant engagement

	

22	

Managing incident communication

	

22 	

Tracking outcomes

23	

Sustaining the change

	

25	

26	

Conclusion

27 	

Appendix

28 	

Endnotes

Creating broader change

Using the guide

P

ublic housing authorities (PHAs) across the country are an integral
source of affordable housing in communities, and can play a critical
role in a person’s transition home after being released from prison or
jail. Increased awareness of the barriers posed by a criminal conviction led
several PHAs to develop programs that support people returning to their
communities from incarceration. These programs—often implemented in
partnership with community-based organizations offering employment,
educational, and other reentry services—demonstrate success with
participant progress toward self-sufficiency and low recidivism rates, thus
enhancing public safety and strengthening families and communities.1
Further, the programs create viable options to address a persistent problem
faced by people with criminal histories: securing safe and affordable
housing. This guide is designed to help PHAs develop new (or improve
existing) programs that assist formerly incarcerated people.
While the primary audiences for this guide are PHAs, other
stakeholders can use this resource to begin conversations with their local
housing authorities about program implementation.
This guide can be used to
›› gain insight on designing and implementing reentry programs in

public housing;
›› improve existing programs that aid formerly incarcerated people; and
›› become informed on innovation occurring across a wide array of
PHAs.
This guide is divided into three sections:
›› Background: Housing and reentry offers information about

the challenges in accessing and securing housing for formerly
incarcerated people, the links between secure housing and

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recidivism, and other factors that point to a need for housing
programs to assist people returning to their communities from
incarceration.
›› Design and implementation explores significant steps in the
planning phases of a program, such as identifying partners, defining
eligibility criteria, and securing funding. It offers lessons that other
programs have learned on resident engagement, managing incident
communications, building support, and tracking outcomes.
›› Sustaining the change examines how programs can continue
to be part of their housing authority’s regular operations, how to
facilitate and maintain institutional culture change, and how to spur
collaborations between local housing authorities and community
partners.
Since 2013, the Vera Institute of Justice (Vera) has worked with the New
York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) to launch and implement the
Family Reentry Program. At the same time, Vera worked with the Housing
Authority of New Orleans (HANO) to address barriers to affordable
housing and employment faced by those with criminal records.
For this guide, Vera identified and contacted housing authorities from
across the country that have designed and implemented reentry programs,
or that have worked to change their admissions policies for formerly
incarcerated people. Vera then convened select PHAs to discuss their
lessons and experiences in policy and program implementation.
The information presented is drawn from the experience and
knowledge of the following housing authorities (see Appendix for a
detailed profile of each PHA):
›› Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority (AMHA), Ohio
›› Burlington Housing Authority (BHA), Vermont
›› Chicago Housing Authority (CHA), Illinois
›› Cook County Housing Authority (CCHA), Illinois
›› Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA), California
›› Housing Authority of the County of Union, Pennsylvania
›› Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO), Louisiana
›› New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), New York
›› Oakland Housing Authority (OHA), California
›› San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA), Texas
›› Syracuse Housing Authority (SHA), New York

Opening Doors: How to develop reentry programs using examples from public housing authorities

5

Key terms
Below are key terms used by public housing authorities:
Housing choice vouchers/Section 8: The housing choice
voucher program (HCV, also known as Section 8) assists lowincome families, the elderly, and people with disabilities in
obtaining private-market housing. Public housing authorities
(PHAs) receive federal funds to administer housing choice
vouchers, which are housing subsidies paid directly to the
landlord by the PHA on behalf of a participating family. The
family pays the difference between the actual rent charged
and the amount subsidized.a
Moving to Work: Moving to Work is a demonstration program
sponsored by the United States Department of Housing and
Urban Development (HUD) that provides funding to PHAs
to design and implement strategies to help residents find
employment and increase the number of housing choices for
low-income families.b
Project-based vouchers: Project-based vouchers are a
component of the HCV program that are assigned to a
specific building, housing unit, or project, as opposed to an
individual or family.c
Public housing: Public housing is federally supported rental
housing for eligible low-income families, the elderly, and
people with disabilities. People are considered eligible based
on 1) annual gross income, 2) whether they qualify as elderly,
persons with disabilities, or as a family, and 3) U.S. citizenship
or eligible immigration status. HUD sets lower-income limits
at 80 percent of median income, and very low limits at 50
percent of median income, of the county or metropolitan
area in which the individual lives. There are approximately 1.2
million households living in public housing units managed by
about 3,300 housing authorities.d
Tenant-based vouchers: Tenant-based vouchers are
a component of the HCV program that are awarded to
eligible applicants to assist in rental and/or security deposit
payments in privately owned housing. Tenant-based vouchers
are granted to tenants, not a development or a project.e
a

Probation: Probation is a community-based sentence
imposed by a court in lieu of incarceration. While on
probation, a person may be required to check in with a
probation officer, and may have special conditions imposed
(such as payment of court fees or participation in treatment
programs). Violating the conditions of probation can result in
incarceration.f
Jail: Jails are usually operated by local governments and
tend to hold people who are awaiting trial or sentencing. Jails
can also be used to house those who are convicted of a crime
for short sentences lasting less than a year. For some crimes in
certain jurisdictions, people may be held in jail for more than
one year.g
Prison: Prisons are mostly operated by state or federal
governments and hold people who are convicted of felonies
and sentenced to more than one year of incarceration.
Certain jurisdictions (Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii,
Rhode Island, and Vermont) have correctional systems
that combine jails and prisons. Some prisons are owned
and operated by private corporations that contract with
government agencies.h
Parole: Parole refers to the release of people from prison
to serve the remainder of their sentence within their
communities. People may be released on parole by the
discretion of a parole board, or because of statutes in their
sentence. Once released on parole, individuals are required
to adhere to certain conditions and stipulations (such as
curfew, and participation in reentry programming), and
may be required to check in with a parole officer regularly.
Violating the conditions and stipulations of parole can result
in returning to prison.i

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), “Housing Choice Vouchers Fact Sheet,” https://perma.cc/B2Z7-WB5P.

b

HUD, “Moving to Work (MTW),” https://perma.cc/DM86-TD5G.

c

HUD, “Project Based Vouchers,” https://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/program_offices/public_indian_housing/programs/hcv/project.

d

HUD, “Public Housing,” https://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/program_offices/public_indian_housing/programs/ph.

e

HUD, “Tenant Based Vouchers,” https://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/program_offices/public_indian_housing/programs/hcv/tenant.

f

Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), “Community Corrections” (Probation and Parole). https://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=tp&tid=15#terms_def.

g

BJS, “Terms & Definitions: Local Jail Inmates And Jail Facilities,” https://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=tdtp&tid=12.

h

BJS, “Terms & Definitions: Corrections,” https://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=tdtp&tid=1.

i

6

Below are key criminal justice terms used throughout this
report:

BJS, “Community Corrections” (Probation and Parole), https://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=tp&tid=15#terms_def.

Vera Institute of Justice

Mapping housing innovation across the country

Burlington Housing Authority, VT
Syracuse Housing Authority, NY
Akron Metropolitan
Housing Authority, OH

Chicago
Housing Authority, IL
Cook County
Housing Authority, IL

Oakland Housing
Authority, CA

New York City Housing Authority, NY

Housing Authority of the
County of Union, PA

Housing Authority of the
City of Los Angeles, CA

San Antonio
Housing Authority, TX

Housing Authority of
New Orleans, LA

Background: Housing and
reentry

A

cross the country, there are about 3,300 public housing authorities
(PHAs) serving more than one million households.2 Given its
breadth and geographic scope, public housing can be a tremendous
resource for people coming out of prison or jail. Public housing connects
people with their families and communities, and helps to establish
a foundation for employment and other opportunities. However,
admissions criteria for much of the country’s public housing often
bars people with conviction histories. Following federal guidelines, all
PHAs place permanent bans on people who are subject to lifetime sex
offender registration and people who have been convicted of producing
methamphetamine in federally subsidized housing.3 For other types
of crimes, housing authorities exercise their discretion; the length of

Opening Doors: How to develop reentry programs using examples from public housing authorities

7

exclusion usually varies with the severity of the crime.4
Despite these exclusionary policies, anecdotal evidence suggests some
formerly incarcerated people return to public housing and choose to “live
in the shadows” because they have nowhere else to go—and because they
may require the financial assistance and emotional support their families
provide.5 Such living arrangements are unstable and can place entire
families at risk of eviction. As such, people returning to their communities
from incarceration may have to choose between returning to their
families in public housing and placing their family at risk of eviction, or
undertaking the arduous task of finding alternative means of shelter.
While research links housing to successful reentry outcomes, formerly
incarcerated people face myriad challenges when attempting to secure
housing. These challenges can increase their likelihood of becoming
homeless and may hinder their successful transition into the community.6
Studies show access to stable, affordable housing substantially increases
the likelihood that someone returning home from prison or jail will find
and retain employment, rebuild supportive social networks, and refrain
from committing new crimes.7
Home, for many, is connected to family. Family support is crucial for
recently released people, not only for basic survival needs, but also for
emotional support and stability.8 The role of being a parent or spouse
can also be a motivating factor for many formerly incarcerated people to
successfully transition into the community after prison or jail. For example,
strong father-child involvement immediately after release was significantly
associated with those men working more hours per week and reporting
lower rates of recidivism and substance use.9
The difficulties formerly incarcerated people face upon returning to
their communities have received significant public attention in recent
years, which has opened opportunities for reform.10 A particular focus
on housing-related challenges led federal, state, and local policymakers to
reform the restrictions to public housing for formerly incarcerated people.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development released policy
statements and guidelines for PHAs regarding people with criminal justice
histories.11 Subsequently, some PHAs launched programs to help reunite
formerly incarcerated people with their families in public housing or assist
them in securing their own housing units. Others examined and revised
public housing eligibility policies applicable to formerly incarcerated
people.
This guide is designed to support PHAs and other agencies that are
beginning to develop new housing strategies and programming to meet
the needs of formerly incarcerated people. It may also support PHAs
that already have programs underway, but seek new ways to enhance

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their ongoing efforts. Effective implementation and monitoring of these
programs can ensure success for PHAs, the people they serve, their
residents, and their communities.

Design and implementation

P

HAs starting these programs share common goals: improving the
lives of formerly incarcerated people, helping residents become
self-sufficient, and keeping public housing communities safe. Still,
the reasons for implementing reentry programs may vary across housing
authorities. In some jurisdictions, stakeholders identify issues faced
by residents and their family members as a result of prior conviction
histories, and are motivated to address them. In other places, programs
develop in response to policy changes or at the request of criminal justice
stakeholders. While the motivations of these stakeholders come from
various internal and external forces, their solutions may look quite similar.
Once a decision is made to design and implement a public housing reentry
program, several questions should be considered during the planning
stages, including those below:
›› What are the goals of the program?
›› What is the best way these program goals can be accomplished?
›› Who is eligible for the program, and what is the program’s structure?
›› How will the program be funded?
›› What partners should be engaged in program design? In

implementation?
›› What roles do each of the partners play?
These guiding questions should be considered throughout the design and
implementation phases of a program. They serve as a reminder of the initial
focus and direction of the program, and allow partners to reflect on the
program’s growth and to respond to evolving needs.
It is important to note that not all processes, steps, and components
of programming will be the same for each housing authority. Each
PHA’s approach will differ based on its setting, the needs of the formerly
incarcerated people in their community, residents’ desires, or other
factors.12 PHAs are cautioned against taking reentry program designs offthe-shelf without first undertaking a comprehensive assessment of their

Opening Doors: How to develop reentry programs using examples from public housing authorities

9

population, reentry landscape, and the needs and desires of stakeholders.
The reentry programs discussed in this guide share some strategies, but the
components of each program vary.

Partnerships
It is essential for all PHAs considering reentry housing programs to
identify potential partners willing and able to participate in the planning
or implementation efforts. The most successful reentry programs allow
housing authorities to do what they do best—provide housing—while
relying on partners to provide services beyond the scope of the PHA’s
mandate and resources.13 As such, identifying an array of partnerships is
critical to a housing program’s success. Additionally, a range of expertise
and knowledge is crucial when a program is faced with challenges. Diverse
partners help find efficient, effective solutions during both program
planning and implementation.
Partners can assume various roles, including:
›› connecting formerly incarcerated people to resources beyond

››
››
››
››

housing, such as behavioral or mental health counseling, case
management services, family counseling, domestic violence or
trauma counseling, legal representation, substance use treatment,
educational programs, or vocational/workforce training;
providing funding (see page 19 for more about funding);
sourcing potential program applicants from their existing pool of
clients;
building support within the community through outreach initiatives
(see “Prospective applicant engagement” on page 20); and
assisting efforts to adopt policies that encourage long-term shifts in
culture. (An example might be a policy that encourages change in
how PHAs or other staffers view and treat people who have been
incarcerated.)

PHAs look to many different organizations for program assistance. Here
are examples of how some of these partnerships function:
›› The Burlington Housing Authority (BHA) in Vermont, which

started its program in 2005, achieved success by partnering with
local probation and parole officers, landlords, and property managers
to offer housing assistance to people recently released from prison.

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The Offender Re-Entry Housing Program is entirely funded by
the Vermont Department of Corrections, which has been a critical
partner since the program’s inception. The program works closely
with vocational service organizations to offer formerly incarcerated
people résumé-building assistance. Other services include referrals to
Social Security representatives, behavioral counseling, or substance
use treatment. The reentry program also works with five community
justice centers, which provide supplemental case management
services to program participants. Community justice centers are part
of the City of Burlington’s Community and Economic Development
Office and provide various services for victims of crime and those
involved with the criminal justice system.14

PHAs are cautioned against taking reentry
program designs off-the-shelf without first
undertaking a comprehensive assessment
of their population, reentry landscape, and
the needs and desires of stakeholders.

›› The Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA)

developed strong partnerships with two of its service providers,
A New Way of Life and Weingart, both of which lead efforts to
speak with potential participants about housing programs. They
are the main source of referrals and case management services for
participants in the program. A New Way of Life’s case managers
connect families and individuals with supportive services. The
organization works with the housing authority to create customized
plans that help ensure successful reunification and reentry, all with
the goal of preventing homelessness for the formerly incarcerated.15
›› The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) partners with
13 reentry service providers that refer applicants to the NYCHA
Family Reentry Program. To be a part of the program, people agree
to participate in at least six months of case management from their
referring provider. The level and type of services required depends
on the participant’s individual needs and may range from educational

Opening Doors: How to develop reentry programs using examples from public housing authorities

11

opportunities or employment readiness training to substance use
treatment or counseling. Other partners include the New York
State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision
(DOCCS), the New York City Department of Homeless Services,
the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH), and Vera. DOCCS,
federal facilities, and the New York City Department of Correction
provide outreach within their facilities, beginning the conversation
about housing while people are still incarcerated. The correctional
agencies also disseminate information about the program within
their parole offices. Family Reentry Program staff and the 13 reentry
service organizations also provide outreach within correctional
facilities and in the community, while CSH and Vera provide
implementation assistance.
›› The Oakland Housing Authority (OHA) program, Parents and
Children Together (PACT)—a combination of the Maximizing
Opportunities for Mothers to Succeed program and the Dads
Acquiring and Developing Skills program—works in partnership
with the Santa Rita Jail and the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office
to identify eligible participants based on housing needs. OHA also
partners with the City of Oakland and a network of communitybased organizations for their Sponsor-Based Housing Assistance
Program (SBHAP). The City of Oakland funds these communitybased organizations that provide case management and other
services for participants. OHA conducts eligibility and criminal
background screenings after participants are referred to the program.
Both PACT and SBHAP are local programs developed under OHA’s
Moving to Work (MTW) agreement. As an MTW agency, OHA uses
authorizations to waive some federal regulations and develop local
conditions that better serve local communities.
›› The San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA) runs its reentry
program with the Bexar County Community Supervision and
Corrections Department. SAHA developed key partnerships that
benefit program participants, their families, and their communities.
Employers in the San Antonio area now hire people with criminal
histories, in part due to growing manufacturing needs. A wellknown auto company’s manufacturer—along with other businesses
that provide goods to the auto company—actively recruits formerly
incarcerated people. In order to attract new hires, companies
hold job fairs specifically targeted toward people with criminal
histories. SAHA also maintains a partnership with an organization
called Crosspoint, which brings on recently released people as
volunteers for activities such as food distribution to low-income

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residents. SAHA also partners with a rape crisis center to tackle
issues around family violence prevention, recognizing the need to
restore relationships that may have already been strained prior to
incarceration.
After potential partners are identified, programs often find it useful
to appoint a manager or central office staff person, such as a reentry
coordinator, to oversee the program. At NYCHA (New York City), there
are designated housing authority staff members who manage the reentry
program. Responsibilities include receiving the referral applications,
making home visits, coordinating the screening committee meetings, and
administering programmatic and logistical support. BHA (Burlington) has
an on-site, full-time staff member to provide supportive services, as well as
two dedicated full-time staff members for its reentry program.
Some PHAs get creative, looking toward research institutions or
universities for help in shaping and advocating for programming. HACLA
(Los Angeles) works with a doctoral student at the University of Southern
California to survey potential applicants based on their motivations and
reentry needs, and conducts follow-up surveys to examine participants’
employment, health, and recidivism outcomes. AMHA (Akron, Ohio)
partnered with students from the University of Akron School of Law, who
helped develop referral tools for the reentry program. These law students
also provide legal service clinics for the community through which they
can identify and refer potential applicants to the program.
PHAs often participate in coalitions to identify and address broader
criminal justice issues. In San Antonio, the housing authority’s partnership
with the local probation office and 20 community-based organizations
forms a “resurgence collaborative” that serves reentry housing efforts.
Similarly, the mayor’s office in Los Angeles supports a task force that
includes the housing authority, parole and probation services, and
nonprofits to collaborate together on criminal justice issues. The Housing
Authority of the County of Union, Pennsylvania participates in a criminal
justice advisory board that brings together various justice-related service
providers.

Program model
Once partnerships are established, the next step is usually defining the
structure of the program. At this point, PHAs may want to determine the
length of participation, eligibility requirements, termination procedures,
and the overall model of the reentry program. PHA reentry programs

Opening Doors: How to develop reentry programs using examples from public housing authorities

13

can follow a family reunification model (reuniting participants with their
families in public housing), a direct housing model (participants move into
vacant units managed by the housing authority), or a hybrid of the two. At
this stage, PHA reentry programs may also elect to work exclusively with
participants who are on parole or probation.
Here are several examples of how housing authorities have structured
their reentry programs:
›› The Burlington Housing Authority (BHA) recruits potential

program applicants directly from correctional facilities. BHA
first looks to reunite participants with family members in public
housing. If this is a possibility, the residence is approved as long
as the property manager agrees and the address is accepted by the
department of corrections. If a participant does not have family
members to return to, BHA works with landlords in the community
to secure housing, or may refer participants to a BHA-operated
transitional housing program. Upon receiving housing through
this program, participants are required to sign a lease addendum
stipulating that the conditions of the lease are also conditions of
his or her release.16 Pursuant to an agreement with the department
of corrections, BHA is required to provide housing retention
services until the participant is no longer under supervision. Once
participants complete the required supervision, they may still receive
housing retention services and support through BHA’s Housing
Retention Unit that works with all residents of BHA.
›› Chicago Housing Authority (CHA)’s Reentry Pilot has two tracks:
1) a CHA wait list; and 2) reunion with a family member who is
living in public housing or participating in the department’s Housing
Choice Voucher Program.17 Both aspects of the Reentry Pilot require
formerly incarcerated people to have completed a six-month reentry
program offered through a local nonprofit—such as Safer Foundation
or St. Leonard’s Ministries—prior to submitting an application.
Participants must be referred by a partner service provider to be
eligible.
›› The Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA)’s,
Demonstration Re-entry Program allows families on the Section
8 housing choice voucher program to reunite with formerly
incarcerated family members who would not otherwise be eligible
to join the household. Landlords must approve of the formerly
incarcerated family member returning to the household. If the
landlord does not allow the family member to be added to the
unit, the family is given a voucher to move to another unit with

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an accepting landlord. Participants must agree to receive case
management services from participating partners for one year.
›› The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA)’s Family Reentry
Program is a family reunification program. Participants who wish to
participate must be reuniting with family members (falling within
relationship categories defined by NYCHA) who are currently
living within NYCHA housing. The two-year program is based on
NYCHA’s existing temporary permission policy that allows family
members to live as a household upon receiving property manager
approval (the policy was extended from one to two years for this
program). All participants agree to work with a reentry service
provider to develop an action plan that outlines a person’s goals for
the first six months and maps steps toward achieving them. People
also agree to participate in case management services for at least
six months.18 NYCHA reserves the right to terminate participants
from the program if they are convicted of any new crime, or if they
pose a threat to the safety of other NYCHA residents. However, if a
participant is arrested and acquitted of all charges, the period from
arrest to acquittal will count toward their program participation.
›› The San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA)’s reentry program
is for people who are on active probation with the Bexar County
Community Supervision and Corrections Department. Participants
are referred into the program by their probation officers. Those
accepted into the program receive dual case management from both
community supervision and SAHA’s Family Self-Sufficiency unit.
›› The Syracuse Housing Authority (SHA) recently launched a family
reunification program modeled on NYCHA’s pilot. The housing
authority adopted a two-year temporary permission policy enabling
program participants to reside as guests with family members
already living in public housing. After successful completion of the
program, participants may be added to the lease or apply for their
own housing.
Reentry programs that mirror, to the extent possible, the PHA’s regular
operating procedures may be more readily accepted by housing
authority staff and the community, especially during the initial stages of
implementation. Such programs are also more easily incorporated into the
PHA’s regular operations over time. As a program matures, there are bound
to be lessons learned that call for changes in eligibility criteria, program
length, and structural components. Highlighting the successes of the
program and being transparent about its operations will help build support

Opening Doors: How to develop reentry programs using examples from public housing authorities

15

for any necessary changes after implementation.

Eligibility based on criminal records
Beyond federal restrictions related to people convicted of manufacturing
methamphetamine in federally subsidized housing and those who are
subject to lifetime sex offender registration, PHAs have wide latitude
when determining who to admit or reject from their programs.19 However,
admissions decisions based solely on criminal histories do not take into
account the totality of the applicant’s circumstances, and ignore the social
and personal progress an applicant may have made since conviction and
during incarceration. It is vital for PHAs to consider broad eligibility
requirements that look at factors proven to be relevant to a participant’s
success in the program, which may include participation in job assistance
or educational programming, drug treatment, or employment. Imposing
strict eligibility guidelines for reentry programs may make it difficult
to find eligible applicants and allows little room for discretion when
determining admission.20 All applications should be reviewed holistically
and applicants should be admitted or rejected on a case-by-case basis.
There are several examples of how criminal records are factored into
admissions decisions, including:
›› BHA (Burlington)’s Offender Re-Entry Housing Program does

not exclude prospective applicants based on criminal histories. The
program begins its screening process by holding an initial “intake
interview” with the applicant, during which he or she is asked about
substance use and criminal history, as well as any changes in the
applicant’s life since his or her conviction. Program staff also ask for
additional information from the applicant in order to assess barriers
to housing.21
›› At NYCHA (New York City), no applicant is excluded from the
program solely on the basis of prior criminal history. A screening
committee reviews all applications and weighs numerous factors
related to the applicant and their family.22 If an application progresses
past the initial screening stage, NYCHA staff meet with the applicant
and his or her family at their home to assess their living situation.
Thereafter, the committee makes a decision on the application and
notifies the referring agency.23
›› In San Antonio, SAHA’s reentry program requires prospective
applicants to be in good standing with their conditions of probation
and excludes people with certain serious convictions.
›› In Union County, Pennsylvania, the Justice Bridge Housing Program

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is open to formerly incarcerated people who are also eligible for
the jurisdiction’s Housing Choice Voucher program. The selection
process is initiated by a referral from an applicant’s parole officer to
the county chief probation officer. The officer assesses the applicant
using a publicly available needs and risk assessment tool, then
forwards the assessment to a review panel. The panel includes
staff from the Housing Authority of the County of Union, the
county sheriff, the jail warden, the chief probation officer, mental
health providers, community action agency members or other case
management providers, and a citizen prisoner advocate (community
members who advocate for prisoners’ rights). Most members of
the panel have a prior professional relationship with program
applicants.24 Acceptance is determined by panel consensus.25

… admissions decisions based solely on
criminal histories do not take into account
the totality of the applicant’s circumstances,
and ignore the social and personal
progress an applicant may have made since
conviction and during incarceration.

Other eligibility criteria
Reentry programs may also consider other factors for participant eligibility,
such as incarceration status or the length of time since a person was
released from jail or prison. Some programs actively recruit potential
applicants while they are incarcerated, as well as people who have been out
of prison for a pre-determined period of time. Depending on the PHA, the
program might also include additional requirements regarding applicants
who are on parole or probation. In some jurisdictions, restrictions on
length of time since release are imposed not as exclusionary measures,
but because there may be easier-to-access, alternative methods that would
allow formerly incarcerated people to return to public housing. For family
reunification models, the PHA may define the type of family relationships

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17

that are allowed for program participation.
Here are some examples of programs using these eligibility guidelines:
›› Initially, AMHA (Akron, Ohio) primarily accepted referrals from

››

››

››

››

››

18

the Summit County reentry court. Part of the court’s referral
process includes using the Ohio Risk Assessment System in order
to determine whether the applicant is a good fit for the reentry
program. Over time, AMHA modified its criteria to accept program
participants from other sources, including a procedure that allows
current residents to request adding another person to their lease.
In order to participate in BHA (Burlington)’s Offender Re-Entry
Housing Program (ORHP), applicants must have at least one year
of their current sentence remaining, or be released on conditional
reentry status and be under the supervision of the department of
corrections in Chittenden County, Vermont.26 When a person nears
release but has nowhere to go, he or she can submit an application
to the ORHP.27 Offender reentry housing specialists then hold an
intake interview with the applicant, which may take place at the
correctional facility if the applicant is still incarcerated.28
SHA (Syracuse) primarily accepts referrals from the local parole
office, but current residents may also refer participants. Prospective
participants must be on parole and have family members who
currently reside in public housing.
To be eligible for HACLA (Los Angeles)’s Demonstration Re-entry
Program, a participant must have been released from jail or prison
within the past 24 months, and must be reuniting with family
members related by blood, marriage, or children.
NYCHA Family Reentry Program (New York City) initially took
applications from people who had been released from incarceration
within the last 18 months. However, to increase the pool of eligible
applicants, NYCHA extended the post-release period to three years.29
Applicants are also eligible to apply while currently incarcerated
with a pending release date (for instance, they have been approved
by the parole board for release). They may or may not be on
parole or probation at the time of referral. Eligible family member
relationships are defined by NYCHA’s existing policy on people who
may be eligible to join a household’s lease.30
OHA (Oakland)’s Parents and Children Together (PACT) program
works with parents who are referred directly from the jail by the
Alameda County Sheriff’s Office. Parents must be reuniting with
children and are required to begin workshops and classes—such as
family reunification and parenting workshops, and substance use
classes—while incarcerated.

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Securing funding
Different sources of funding may be available depending on how funds are
allocated and by whom. Housing authorities often seek funding to pay for
additional staff time, to support reentry services, or for technical assistance
to implement programs. Funds for the various types of implementation and
programmatic activities may come from public or private sources.
Here are several examples of PHAs securing funds for their reentry
programs, and how those funds were used:
›› The Vermont Department of Corrections funds BHA’s Offender Re-

Entry Housing Program in its entirety. The funding is used to secure
three full-time staff members, and allocates an additional $40,000 to
support participants’ first months’ rent, security deposit and housingrelated debts, or other housing-related needs.31 The funding also
covers the Landlord Guarantee Program that reimburses landlords
up to $1,500 in the event that a program participant causes any
damage to a unit or leaves an apartment while still owing rent.32
›› During the pilot phase, NYCHA’s program was funded in part
by the New York City’s Department of Homeless Services (DHS).
The 13 service providers who referred participants to the pilot,
and who subsequently provided case management to participants
throughout the program, were not paid by NYCHA. For most of
the case management, the service providers used their own funds,
as this type of support already fell into their purview as reentry
service organizations.33 The technical assistance to support the
implementation was paid for with private funding from foundations
as well as DHS.
›› OHA provides funding to the City of Oakland for the housing
assistance portion of its sponsor-based housing program. The City
of Oakland disburses housing assistance funding and provides
supplemental monies to community organizations that provide
case management and family support to program participants. For
the Maximizing Opportunities for Mothers (MOMS) initiative, the
County Behavioral Health Care Services Agency provides funding
for two case managers. The County Public Health Department
previously provided funding for a grant writer.34 Upon completion
of the MOMS program and completion of graduation requirements,
participants are eligible to receive a project-based housing voucher.35
For OHA’s PACT program, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office
Inmate Welfare Fund supports eight dedicated Alameda County
Sheriff’s Office staff members who work in facilities on this program.

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›› The Housing Authority of the County of Union initially

funded its Justice Bridge Housing Program through a grant from
the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency with
supplemental funding from the housing authority’s own general
funds.36 The program was also able to obtain rental assistance for
participants with behavioral health needs through a local behavioral
services provider. The county provides rental assistance funds for
program participants who are parents of minor children.37 Union
County also received funds from the U.S. Department of Justice’s
Bureau of Justice Assistance to evaluate and replicate its program.38

Prospective applicant engagement
It is important to develop strategies that engage prospective applicants,
community members, the public, and other stakeholders in a way that
builds trust and fosters open communication. Policies and programs
designed to increase access to public housing for people with conviction
histories are ripe for misunderstanding and rumors. Prospective
participants and community residents may have reservations or distrust
of the housing authority due to possible poor experiences with housing
authority staff. This distrust may lead some formerly incarcerated people
and their families to fear that enrolling in these programs could lead
to eviction, or that participation may lead to increased monitoring and
scrutiny by housing authority staff that would violate their privacy.39
This lack of trust can be exacerbated by misinformation about eligibility
requirements or other policies within a housing reentry program. Clarity
about the procedures for screening reentry program applicants is critical,
including what factors are taken into account when the screening
committee makes a decision. These procedures should be made available in
writing and provided to applicants.40 When developing written materials,
it is necessary to exercise caution and sensitivity to these issues, as
prospective applicants and residents may be wary of new policies relating
to criminal activity, incarceration, and reentry.
›› HACLA (Los Angeles)’s initial letter to households with prospective

program applicants was met with fear. Although HACLA’s program
allowed families to be reunited in public housing, many residents
worried that by applying for the program and adding formerly
incarcerated people to their lease, they would be subject to eviction.

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PHAs can employ creative measures to alert both prospective participants
and residents of the housing opportunities within the community. In
particular, it may be helpful to construct a community engagement strategy
that includes a combination of written products, community events, and
media outreach or campaigns.41
›› NYCHA (New York City) has engaged with prospective

applicants by developing brochures and flyers for distribution in
jails and prisons. Some participants said they learned about the
Family Reentry Program from flyers they saw in facilities while
incarcerated. Additionally, these materials were distributed among
probation and parole officers so they could provide information
about NYCHA programs and housing options upon an incarcerated
person’s release. In tandem, Vera has developed resources that aim
not only to serve as an introduction to the program but also to dispel
myths surrounding people with criminal histories and their access
to public housing in New York City.42 The resources include flyers,
brochures, and posters, and can be widely disseminated throughout
the city. Moreover, Vera worked with the Theater of the Oppressed
NYC, Youth Represent, and New York City government officials to
promote the program to community members, including nonprofits
who serve NYCHA residents and prospective applicants. A series of
plays were created to address public housing and reentry concerns,
and to introduce the Family Reentry Program as a safe and viable
housing option for formerly incarcerated people.

Prospective participants and community
residents may have reservations or distrust
of the housing authority due to possible
poor experiences with housing authority
staff.

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Managing incident communication
Public housing residents and other stakeholders may be concerned that
people who have broken the law are “jumping the waitlist” or will be
endangering others living in the community. Additionally, there are often
concerns that returning to the same communities from which someone
was arrested may not help formerly incarcerated people succeed upon
release.
While it may be tempting to keep quiet about a new reentry program
for fear of negative responses, several housing authorities that have
launched such programs advise an open, proactive approach. Informing
key leaders in partner agencies is critical so that they are prepared to
speak with the press and general public about the program and its goals.
Communicating with key partners if a negative incident occurs within the
program is also necessary, as such issues may garner media attention or
other negative programmatic responses.
›› Early on, BHA (Burlington)’s ORHP received some resistance

from the community for housing formerly incarcerated people in
their neighborhoods and using tax dollars to pay for the program.
BHA worked with the local police department and the department
of corrections to talk about the issues as a matter of public safety.
Ultimately, they gained community support.
›› Following the soft launch of the Family Reentry Program in New
York City, NYCHA’s communications department approached a
trusted journalist to give her a preview of the press release about the
program and to provide access to key spokespeople in the partner
agencies, including a resident leader. The spokespeople shared a set
of talking points that were developed in advance of the meeting
with the reporter so that they all had access to the same information
during initial interviews. This strategy resulted in a thorough and
balanced story about the program. Other news coverage of the
program that was based on the press release had a more sensational
focus, which reinforced the value of the deliberate strategy.

Tracking outcomes
Data can illustrate the success of an initiative (such as employment
outcomes achieved by participants, participants’ recidivism rates, changes
in rent and on-time rent payment), identify areas of improvement,
and reveal the progress made since the program’s inception. Based on

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the program model and services offered, PHAs often find it useful to
capture relevant information on specific milestones achieved by program
participants and the growth of their reentry programs. This data can be
used to educate communities, inform the public, attract funders, and spur
innovation among advocates.
The following are some important metrics to consider when measuring the
success of a reentry housing program.
›› Recidivism: Recidivism may be defined as a new arrest, a new

conviction, or return to prison after completing a sentence for a prior
crime.43 While the definition of recidivism varies by jurisdiction,
defining a standard and capturing this information illustrates the
importance of housing stability and other supports for a person’s
transition from incarceration into the community.
›› Education and employment outcomes: Education and
employment outcomes during program participation demonstrate
a path toward self-sufficiency and a successful transition back
home. Communicating participants’ success stories can be helpful,
particularly when partnering with community-based organizations
or nonprofits.
›› Homelessness prevention: This may be difficult to measure as there
may not be a mechanism to determine if a participant was at risk
of homelessness absent program participation. One way to capture
this information is to determine if any referrals were made from
homeless shelters, or if the participant was living in a shelter at the
time of his or her application or prior to incarceration.

Sustaining the change

I

n recent years, as crime has gone down and awareness of the human and
financial impact of the 1990s’ “tough on crime” policies rose, there has
been a shift in attitudes and understanding about incarcerated people.44
There has been a reexamination of the role that government and civil
society can play in helping people successfully transition out of prison or
jail. These same cultural shifts are occurring among public housing staff
and communities.

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Public housing authorities (PHAs) with reentry programs recommend
developing a deliberate staff engagement process to inform employees
about the program’s purpose and grounding in research. At the same
time, PHAs have found engaging other PHAs and the broader community
helpful to garner support and spur innovation. Here are several approaches
to consider:
›› Communicate and collaborate across agencies. In Burlington,

the housing authority, department of corrections, and probation
officers host monthly meetings to identify challenges formerly
incarcerated residents may face and identify solutions. In Vermont,
the department of corrections resides within the Vermont Agency
of Human Services. This structure lends itself to collaboration with
other agencies, such as the department of health and the department
of mental health, which in turn results in a holistic governmental
approach to working with currently and formerly incarcerated
people.
›› Engage the local police department. In New Orleans, the chief
of the housing police was an ally in shaping the housing authority’s
policy change. He was able to describe crime rates in public housing
developments in New Orleans and reaffirm to the public that the
majority of crime committed in public housing property was not
committed by residents. By engaging law enforcement early in
the program-planning process, the housing authority had a better
understanding of local crime trends, and was able to initiate
important conversations about the policy change.
›› Provide learning opportunities to key decision makers. By
participating in broader conversations about reentry—which
includes hearing directly from people who have been incarcerated
and their families—staff can gain an understanding of what their role
can be in helping people successfully return from incarceration. In
Akron, Ohio, AMHA staff shared Michelle Alexander’s book The New
Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness with board
members. In New York City, Family Reentry Program staff regularly
share articles and event invitations with members of the program’s
screening committee to inform them of reentry research and to keep
them current about housing access issues impacting people with
conviction histories.
›› Serve as spokespeople. Another strategy housing authorities can
employ is to allow staffers to represent the reentry program in public
settings. AMHA in Akron, for example, has staff explain the policy
changes to law enforcement, service providers, and other community

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partners. Other housing authority staff present at national or
regional conferences (such as state housing authority associations)
about their reentry work. These sorts of opportunities increase staff
ownership of the programs or policy changes, and allow them to hear
the positive reception of the changes by outside stakeholders who
may be surprised and encouraged by the housing authority’s new
direction.
›› Provide training opportunities to line staff. For an agency’s
culture shift to be effective, staff at all levels—including housing
assistants, property managers, and employees who review
applications—need opportunities to participate in reentry
programming. For example, the HACC in Illinois held informal
trainings for its property managers, explaining how the program
would work and gathering valuable feedback from onsite staff. As a
reentry program gets underway, sharing participants’ success stories
with staff and recognizing employee roles in this success can spur
and reaffirm program commitment.

Creating broader change
The innovative practices of a housing authority or the successes of a
reentry program may open opportunities for broader change. For example,
the HACC’s Reentry Pilot in Cook County helped spur changes to HACC’s
Admissions and Continued Occupancy Policy and its housing application
process, including giving all housing applicants the opportunity to present
mitigating information related to prior criminal history before a final
decision is made on their application. In another example, the success of
the NYCHA Family Reentry Program was the catalyst for New York State
to partner with three housing authorities, in Schenectady, Syracuse, and
White Plains, to create their own reentry programs.
However, the desire for change is not exclusively linked to successful
programs or models—it may come simply because there is a need for it.
In 2013, HANO in New Orleans began exploring changes in admissions
policies affecting formerly incarcerated people. The policy change was
driven by resident advocates in partnership with legal service providers,
law enforcement officials, and community organizers. The revised
Admissions and Continued Occupancy Procedure was finalized and
approved in 2016, and is viewed as among the nation’s most progressive
admissions policies by housing experts.45 In the new policy, HANO
specifies the convictions that are of concern when evaluating an applicant
for housing, clearly describes look-back periods, and creates a process that

Opening Doors: How to develop reentry programs using examples from public housing authorities

25

allows for an individualized assessment for people with convictions of
concern. Barring federally mandated restrictions, no one is automatically
denied admission.

Conclusion

S

afe, stable housing is crucial to ensuring people released from
incarceration have opportunities to succeed. Without a place to call
home, formerly incarcerated people face a future deeply marred with
obstacles and barriers when attempting to rebuild a life beyond prison
or jail. Even with housing, reentering civil society after incarceration is
challenging. Restrictive policies that effectively bar people with criminal
records lead to challenges around basic survival activities such as obtaining
identification, opening a bank account, and securing a job. These practices
present a daunting outlook for people with conviction histories, and
provide a stark reminder of the lasting punishment that society imposes
for people who have completed their sentences.
Housing authorities, such as the ones detailed in this guide, are
challenging previously accepted exclusions of people with conviction
histories by designing programs to work with formerly incarcerated people
and their families. The success stories beginning to emerge from these
reentry programs demonstrate that given the opportunity—and when
supported by family or services that address their needs—people with
criminal records can be reliable tenants, engaged parents, and successful
members of the workforce. These programs offer opportunities to mend
relationships between housing authorities and their residents, creating
pathways to revitalizing communities that were historically marginalized.
Increasing the number of PHAs implementing reentry programs
and changing policies for people with conviction histories will greatly
contribute to the shifting narrative around formerly incarcerated people.
However, there is still work to be done. Capitalizing on the momentum for
change, PHAs and other criminal justice stakeholders should continue to
lead and push for reforms that will sustain the recent progress related to
housing people with conviction histories. A different approach to the way
formerly incarcerated people are thought of and treated may give rise to
innovations that can lower incarceration rates, increase social mobility, and
promote safer communities.

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Appendix

Profiles of public housing authorities included in this guide (as of April 2017)
Housing authority

Location

Number of
subsidized units

Number of Housing
Choice Vouchers
(Section 8)

Akron Metropolitan Housing
Authority (AMHA)

Akron, OH

4,322

5,121

Burlington Housing
Authority (BHA)

Burlington, VT

636

1,798

Chicago Housing
Authority (CHA)

Chicago, IL

23,215

52,482

Cook County Housing Authority
(CCHA)

Chicago, IL

1,929

13,168

Housing Authority of the City of
Los Angeles (HACLA)

Los Angeles, CA

6,971

50,849

Housing Authority of the County
of Union

Lewisburg, PA

303

499

Housing Authority of New Orleans
(HANO)

New Orleans, LA

4,684

18,011

New York City Housing Authority
(NYCHA)

New York, NY

176,066

86,194

Oakland Housing
Authority (OHA)

Oakland, CA

2,122

13,373

San Antonio Housing Authority
(SAHA)

San Antonio, TX

7,535

13,795

Syracuse Housing
Authority (SHA)

Syracuse, NY

2,340

3,872

Note: Information about the AMHA, BHA, CCHA, the HACLA, the OHA, and the Housing Authority of County of Union
were obtained through e-mail correspondence between housing authorities and Vera staff.
NYCHA data was retrieved from New York City Housing Authority, NYCHA 2017 Fact Sheet, (New York: NYCHA, 2017),
https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/nycha/downloads/pdf/factsheet.pdf.
All other information was retrieved from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), HA Profiles
(Washington, DC: HUD), https://pic.hud.gov/pic/haprofiles/haprofilelist.asp.
“Number of subsidized units” reflects the number of public housing units or low-rental units. “Number of Housing
Choice Vouchers (Section 8)” reflects the number of families assisted with the Section 8 subsidies or the number of
Section 8 units.

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27

Endnotes
1	 For the New York City Housing Authority’s Family Reentry Program,
only one participant was convicted of a new crime at the time the
evaluation was released. See John Bae, Margaret diZerega, Jacob
Kang-Brown, Ryan Shanahan, and Ram Subramanian, Coming
Home: An Evaluation of the New York City Housing Authority’s Family
Reentry Pilot Program (New York: Vera Institute of Justice, 2016), 21.
The Justice Bridge Housing Program of Union County, PA, reported
a recidivism rate of 22 percent in their four years of operation. The
housing authority applies the definition of recidivism used by the
Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, which is the first rearrest
or reincarceration of a person after being released from prison. See
Housing Authority of Union County, Justice Bridge Housing Program:
A Successful Reentry Program of the Housing Authority of Union
County, Pennsylvania, Replication Toolkit (Elkins Park, PA: Diana T.
Meyers and Associates, Inc., 2016), 9.
2	 Council of Large Public Housing Authorities, “Facts about Public
Housing” https://perma.cc/92M4-F7S6.
3	 The permanent ban to public housing for lifetime sex offender
registrants was established through the Quality Housing and Work
Responsibility Act (1998). The Independent Agencies Appropriation
Act established the permanent ban to public housing for people
convicted of producing methamphetamines in public housing (1999).
See Lahny R. Silva, “Criminal Histories in Public Housing,” Wisconsin
Law Review 5, no. 24 (2015): 375-397.
4	 For example, residents in New York City with a felony conviction may
be banned for five to six years after completing their sentence, while
people with a misdemeanor may be banned for three to four years,
see Bae, et al., 2016, 9. Other cities have policies imposing lifetime
bans, see Marie Claire Tran-Leung, When Discretion Means Denial:
A National Perspective on Criminal Barriers to Federally Subsidized
Housing (Chicago: Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law,
2015).
5	 Tony Hebert, Invisible Tenant: Living in Federally Assisted Housing
After Prison (New York: Family Justice, 2005, NCJ 233273).
6	 Affordability is the most significant barrier to housing within the
private market, and government-sponsored subsidized housing is in
scarce supply and tends to exclude people with criminal records.
See Caterina Gouvis Roman and Jeremy Travis, Taking Stock:
Housing, Homelessness, and Prisoner Reentry (Washington, DC:
Urban Institute, Justice Policy Center, 2004). Restrictions to housing
options contribute to an increased risk of homelessness for formerly
incarcerated individuals, increasing the risk of further involvement
in the justice system, see Stephen Metraux and Dennis Culhane,
“Homeless shelter use and reincarceration following prison release,”
Criminology and Public Policy 3, no. 2 (2004): 139-160.
7	 For research linking stable housing and employment for formerly
incarcerated people, see Amanda Geller and Marah A. Curtis, “A

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Sort of Homecoming: Incarceration and the housing security of
urban men,” Social Science Research 40, no. 4 (2011): 1197; Marta
Nelson, Perry Deess, and Charlotte Allen, The First Month Out: PostIncarceration Experiences in New York City (New York: Vera Institute
of Justice, 1999), 16.
8	 Research indicates family support has a positive impact on
people returning home from prison. See Rebecca Nasner and
Nancy LaVigne, “Family Support in the Prisoner Reentry Process:
Expectations and Realities,” Journal of Offender Rehabilitation
43, no. 1 (2006) 93-106; Nancy G. La Vigne, Christy Visher,
Jennifer Castro, Chicago Prisoners’ Experiences Returning Home
(Washington, DC: Urban Institute, 2004), 7-8.
9	 Christy A. Visher, “Incarcerated Fathers: Pathways from prison to
home,” Criminal Justice Policy Review 24, no. 1 (2013): 9-26.
10	 Some of the challenges and barriers faced by people once released
from incarceration include losing the right to vote, restrictions
on employment and licensing, and deportation for non-U.S.
citizens. High recidivism rates, coupled with an understanding of
the adverse impacts posed by the barriers faced by people with
conviction histories, led government agencies and communitybased organizations to direct resources toward improving reentry
outcomes. See Ram Subramanian, Rebecka Moreno, and Sophia
Gebreselassie, Relief in Sight? States Rethink the Collateral
Consequences of Criminal Conviction (New York: Vera Institute of
Justice, 2014), 8-9.
11	 Shaun Donovan and Sandra B. Henriquez, Letter to Public Housing
Authority Executive Directors (Washington, DC: HUD, June 17, 2011)
https://perma.cc/TBW4-ES6C. US Department of Housing and Urban
Development, Office of Public and Indian Housing, Guidance for
Public Housing Agencies (PHAs) and Owners of Federally-Assisted
Housing on Excluding the Use of Arrest Records in Housing Decisions,
Notice PIH 2015-19 (Washington, DC: HUD, November 2, 2015), 2,
https://perma.cc/UP78-DVSH.
12	 Forty percent of public housing authorities are found in suburban
or rural areas. See Econsult Corporation, Assessing the Economic
Benefits of Public Housing (Philadelphia, PA: Econsult Corporation,
2007) 5, https://perma.cc/NDT7-LPSF. Prisoners returning to rural
areas have distinct challenges and needs. See Stella Edosomwan
and Kirt Baab, Rural Reentry: Housing Options and Obstacles
for Ex-Offenders (Washington, DC: Housing Assistance Council,
2011). http://www.ruralhome.org/storage/research_notes/
rural_reentry_12-2011.pdf; Gary Zajac, Ph.D., Robert Hutchison,
and Courtney A. Meyer, An Examination of Rural Prisoner Reentry
Challenges (Harrisburg, PA: The Center for Rural Pennsylvania, 2014).
13	 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, It Starts with
Housing (Washington, DC: HUD, 2016).

14	 Community Justice Network of Vermont, “Burlington Community
Justice Center,” http://cjnvt.org/center/burlington-communityjustice-center/.
15	 A New Way of Life, “Re-Entry Family Reunification Program,”
http://housing.anewwayoflife.org/about-the-program/.
16	 Burlington Housing Authority, Burlington Housing Authority Offender
Re-Entry Program Policy and Procedure Manual (Burlington, VT:
Burlington Housing Authority, 2014), 13-14.

in-law, and registered domestic partner of the tenant. See New
York City Housing Authority, Resident Policies and Procedures:
Occupancy and Succession (Remaining Family Member) Policy
Overview (New York City: NYCHA). https://perma.cc/4RGK-KFA6.
31	 Burlington Housing Authority, 2016, 10.
32	 Burlington Housing Authority, 2016, 18; Sarah Russell, interview by
John Bae, New York, February 22, 2017.

17	 Chicago Housing Authority, Chicago Housing Authority
Demonstration Program and Special Initiatives Overview (Chicago:
CHA, November 2014), http://www.thecha.org/assets/1/6/Reentry_
Pilot_Program.pdf.

33	 For a handful of participants, service providers received modest
stipends for referring people to the Family Reentry Program who (at
the time of their application) were accessing one of New York City’s
homeless shelters or who were involved in a DHS homeless-prevention
program.

18	 New York City Housing Authority, Family Reentry Pilot Program
Frequently Asked Questions (New York: NYCHA, December 2014).
https://perma.cc/9B3E-MA5G.

34	 Corporation for Supportive Housing, “Maximizing Opportunities for
Mothers to Succeed, Oakland, CA: A program for mothers exiting jail
and their children.” https://perma.cc/F2RM-R42J.

19	 Silva, 2015, 375-397.

35	Dominica Henderson, interview by John Bae, New York, February 23,
2017.

20	 Bae et al., 2016, 33.
36	 Housing Authority of Union County, 2016, 28.
21	 Sarah Russell, interview by John Bae, New York, February 22, 2017.
37	 Housing Authority of Union County, 2016, 28.
22	 The NYCHA Family Reentry Program’s screening committee is
composed of representatives from NYCHA’s Applications and
Tenancy Administration Department, Management Services Division,
and Community Engagement and Partnerships. Factors that are
considered when reviewing applications include: (1) the victim(s) of
the crime and whether the victim(s) live in the same development as
the applicant’s prospective housing; (2) where the crimes occurred;
(3) whether the family the applicant seeks to join is in good standing
and (4) whether anyone in the family has a pending eviction case.
See Bae et al., 2016, 10-11.
23	 Bae et al., 2016, 11.
24	 Housing Authority of Union County, 2016, 25.
25	 Housing Authority of Union County, 2016, 24.
26	 Burlington Housing Authority, 2014, 19.
27	 Burlington Housing Authority, 2014, 13.
28	 Sarah Russell, interview by John Bae, New York, February 22, 2017.
29	 Bae et al., 2016, 33.
30	 Categories of relationships that NYCHA considers as familial
include: husband, wife, son, daughter, stepson, stepdaughter, father,
mother, stepfather, stepmother, brother (including half-brother),
sister (including half-sister), grandfather, grandmother, grandson,
granddaughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, father-in-law, mother-

38	 Housing Authority of Union County, 2016, 3.
39	 In New York City, some prospective applicants and family members
did not complete their application for the NYCHA Family Reentry
Program because they feared the application would expose their
family to eviction. Others were concerned that investigations may
be triggered because of existing problems (e.g., rent delinquency),
and some families were concerned that NYCHA staff would regularly
enter their homes. See Bae et al., 2016, 28-29.
40	 For example, the Housing Authority of New Orleans released
their criminal background screening procedures that outline
the process used to make admissions decisions for people with
conviction histories. See Housing Authority of New Orleans, Criminal
Background Screening Procedures (New Orleans: HANO, March 29,
2016), https://perma.cc/YTJ8-ACPX.
41	 Diana Brazell, Informing and Engaging Communities through Reentry
Mapping (Washington, DC: Urban Institute, 2007).
42 A website was also designed to house the resources and offer
additional information about NYCHA’s programs and policies for
people with conviction histories, see www.backtonycha.org.
	
43 The National Institute of Justice defines recidivism as a new arrest, a
new conviction, or return to prison within three years of completing
sentence for a prior crime. See National Institute of Justice,
Recidivism, (Washington, DC: NIJ). https://perma.cc/4M5M-XP3G.

Opening Doors: How to develop reentry programs using examples from public housing authorities

29

44	 The Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Bureau of Justice
Statistics reported significant declines in violent and property crime
between 1993 and 2015. See Pew Research Center, 5 Facts About
Crime in the U.S. (Washington, DC: Pew Research Center, February
21, 2017), https://perma.cc/F79E-UQ33.
45	Rebecca J. Walter, Jill Viglione, and Marie Skubak Tillyer, “One
Strike to Second Chance: Using Criminal Backgrounds in Admission
Decisions for Assisted Housing,” Housing Policy Debate 2017, 13. doi:1
0.1080/10511482.2017.1309557.

30

Vera Institute of Justice

Acknowledgements
The authors would like to thank a number of people and agencies for
their role in developing this guide. Thank you to Leslie Schmeltzer from
the Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority; Michael Cartier and Sarah
Russell from the Burlington Housing Authority; Mary Howard from
the Chicago Housing Authority; Richard Minnochio from the Cook
County Housing Authority; Angela Adams and Jesse Navarratte from
the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles; Maggie Merrill from
the Housing Authority of New Orleans; Yolanda Johnson-Peterkin and
Sarah Figuereo from the New York City Housing Authority; Dominica
Henderson from the Oakland Housing Authority; Adrian Lopez from the
San Antonio Housing Authority; Mary Anne Bridges and Bruce Quigley
from the Housing Authority of Union County; and Annette Abdelaziz
from the Syracuse Housing Authority. Thanks also to Marie Claire TranLeung from the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, and Ron
Ashford and Kymian Ray from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban
Development.
We would like to thank Erika Turner for leading the publication process;
Mary Crowley, Fred Patrick, and Ram Subramanian for their review and
comments; Gloria Mendoza for designing the guide; and Erin Dostal Kuller
for her help in editing.
We are deeply grateful to The Tow Foundation and Trinity Church Wall
Street for supporting the development of this guide.

About Citations
As researchers and readers alike rely more and more on public knowledge
made available through the Internet, “link rot” has become a widelyacknowledged problem with creating useful and sustainable citations. To
address this issue, the Vera Institute of Justice is experimenting with the
use of Perma.cc (https://perma.cc/), a service that helps scholars, journals,
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Opening Doors: How to develop reentry programs using examples from public housing authorities

31

Credits
© Vera Institute of Justice 2017. All rights reserved. An electronic version of this report is posted on
Vera’s website at www.vera.org/opening-doors
Image credits: © 2017 Jing Jing Tsong c/o theispot.
The Vera Institute of Justice is a justice reform change agent. Vera produces ideas, analysis, and
research that inspire change in the systems people rely upon for safety and justice, and works in
close partnerships with government and civic leaders to implement it. Vera is currently pursuing
core priorities of ending the misuse of jails, transforming conditions of confinement, and ensuring
that justice systems more effectively serve America’s increasingly diverse communities. For more
information, visit www.vera.org.
For more information about this report, contact Ram Subramanian, editorial director, at
rsubramanian@vera.org. For more information on Vera’s projects on public housing, contact
Margaret diZerega, project director, Center on Sentencing and Corrections, at
mdizerega@vera.org.

Suggested Citation
John Bae, Kate Finley, Margaret diZerega, and Sharon Kim. Opening Doors: How to develop
reentry programs using examples from public housing authorities. New York: Vera Institute of
Justice, 2017.

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