Cook County reduces use of criminal background checks on renters

Despite strong opposition from landlords, Board of Commissioners approves “Just Housing” ordinance

Chicago /
Nov.November 22, 2019 10:45 AM
Commissioner Brandon Johnson and Chicago apartment buildings (Credit: iStock)

Commissioner Brandon Johnson and Chicago apartment buildings (Credit: iStock)

Criminal background checks in Cook County have for years blocked potential Chicago-area renters with criminal records from signing a lease. Landlords and the real estate industry support the practice of using those background checks, while community advocates have called it discriminatory.

On Thursday, the county Board of Commissioners approved a “Just Housing” ordinance that will open the door to people with criminal records who apply for housing, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

The board voted 12-4 to approve the new rule, which is an amendment to the county’s existing housing ordinance. Now, apartment owners won’t be able to consider applicants’ criminal backgrounds until after they already have qualified through a credit check or other screening. The new measure doesn’t apply to sex offenders, who still can be rejected.

The vote ends a months-long dispute between landlords and criminal reform advocates, according to the report. The Just Housing amendment was originally voted on in April but faced backlash from landlords.

Commissioner Brandon Johnson called it at ”a tremendous opportunity to correct age-long wrongs that have systematically deprived black families, in particular, access to housing,” according to the report.

The Just Housing Initiative advocacy organization said the measure aims to “ensure that people with records have equal access to housing opportunities in Cook County.”

Bridget Degnen, who serves as vice chair of the Rules Committee, was one of the nfour commissioners who opposed the measure. Degnen said she agrees with its purpose but disagrees with some of the details, such as only allowing housing providers to look at convictions that occurred within the last three years. [Sun-Times] — Jackie Flynn


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