Politics

LA county supervisors to vote on opening up public housing to ex-cons

L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl has proposed lightening opening county-run public rental assistance to those on parole or probation. The county has tougher restrictions than the federal government and the City of L.A.
L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl has proposed lightening opening county-run public rental assistance to those on parole or probation. The county has tougher restrictions than the federal government and the City of L.A.
Sheila Kuehl

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The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to decide Tuesday whether to lift restrictions on who has access to public assistance for housing, allowing people on probation and parole and with drug convictions older than two years to qualify.

Currently, the county has tougher requirements than the federal government on who can live in federally subsidized public housing projects and receive Section 8 vouchers for rent assistance.

"I just came across this issue and didn't think it was fair or served any real public goal," said Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who co-authored the motion with Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

"Even though you paid for your crime, you can't get a housing voucher. It just seemed to me to contribute to the homeless population," she added.

She said providing permanent housing is ultimately cheaper than homeless services and pointed out that the City of Los Angeles does not have the same restrictions.

The proposal faces stiff resistance from  Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Don Knabe. 

Knabe said the restrictions were put in place for a reason: the Board and county housing authority have spent decades trying to clean up public housing.

"They were just cesspools of criminal activity — and we can't allow to go back to that," Knabe said.

Furthermore, he said, there's such a shortage of public housing, it's important to prioritize those who deserve it most.

"My priority is to make sure that those who need it, who played by the rules get the housing," Knabe said.

It's hard to know how many people the proposal would affect, said Peggy Edwards, executive director of the Los Angeles Regional Reentry Partnership, a network of service providers for the formerly incarcerated.

"Probation and parole officers have discouraged people from applying for public housing" because of the county rules, she said, so she doesn't know how many would apply had they the opportunity.

But she said it will clearly help those who are freshly released from prison and under current rules can't live with family in a publicly assisted rental.

Ridley-Thomas said changing the policies could help them stay out of trouble.

"If you put a lot of impediments in the way, it gives rise to re-offenses," he said.

Tuesday's vote is expected to be tight. 

The board was originally scheduled to hear the proposal two weeks ago, but Supervisor Hilda Solis, the swing vote, asked for more time to talk with her constituents before being asked to decide.

Edwards said the pendulum of public opinion has for years swung against those coming out of prison and jail, leading to a lot of restrictions on the population.

"We do that with jobs, we do that with public assistance, we do it with housing," she said. "The pendulum is swinging back now, but it's not back to neutral."