When considering housing, the largest group affected by homelessness are ex-felons. Estimates regarding the number of people likely to be excluded from federally-subsidized housing due to an arrest or criminal record are staggering. People who are released from incarceration face a monumental challenge in finding affordable housing. Most are competing for housing with the 37 million other Americans who live at or below the federal poverty level.
The obstacles to securing housing for reentering individuals are significant. Private market rental housing is restricted due to high move in costs as well as the hesitancy of landlords to rent to individuals with criminal records. Likewise, public housing is limited with various federal exclusions such as FMHA and the local requirement of three years removed from a felony conviction. And, although many of those released from correctional facilities would like to live with family or friends, those households may be unable, through these exclusions, to receive them.
Without a stable residence, it is nearly impossible for newly released individuals to reconnect positively to the community. Housing is a stabilizing force, giving individuals a consistent base from which they can access employment, services for mental health or substance abuse disorders, and other support services as indicated in URC’s empowerment programs. When individuals are released from correctional and/ or treatment facilities, the ability to access safe and secure housing within the community is crucial to their successful reentry. Studies have shown that formerly incarcerated individuals experience high rates of homelessness, in in some urban areas an estimated 30% to 50% of people on parole have no place to call home.
According to the 2010 census, there were 6300 vacant properties in Youngstown, Ohio. The City of Youngstown owns over 600 properties and the Youngstown and Mahoning County Land Banks own over 1200 throughout the city. Over 19,000 properties are Land Bank eligible. In addition,15% of properties are owned by out-of-state residents or companies which has led to blight and vandalism resulting from neglect.
Through property demolition, vacant land now requires repurposing and provides no benefit to the community. Rather than demolish a dilapidated structure, rehabilitation and occupancy would increase housing values and provide tax revenue to the community. Also, by repurposing these vacant properties, funding is saved at the city, state, and federal level, the local housing market is being rebuilt, neighborhoods are made safer, all while providing a place that feels like home while participants complete our program and become self-sufficient.
URC plans to acquire and renovate property in the Tri-County, Ohio area and placing clients that are termed as “unqualified” for housing subsidies available to the public.
URC’s housing strategy is two-fold: transitional to permanent, in four phases, and is designed to enrich the lives of our program participants by providing stable residency and facilitating successful reintegration to society through empowerment programs.
Participants in begin in URC’s transitional housing program will live in shared supervised quarters for an average of 60-90 days with 24-hour supervision. An onsite Case Manager will lead them and they will receive random drug and alcohol tests along with intensive case management and counseling.
They will also attend the empowerment and other programs as delivered by URC Staff, outside consultants, and URC graduate volunteers. During the first 30 days, program participants are expected to find a job and begin saving money toward housing deposits and rent.
In the second phase of the program, expected to last approximately 6 months, participates will continue the program but now in their own units with shared common areas. They will continue to receive supervision and counseling and begin the process of re-uniting with their children, if possible. Routine housing inspections are conducted as well as continued drug and alcohol screening. An analysis is conducted to determine the appropriate type of permanent housing for independent living.
In phase three, also intended to last approximately 6 months, participants have secured permanent housing and fully employed. The support system remains under decreased supervision and they now begin involvement in peer networks and within the community.
In the final phase housing is secured and after care programs are implemented to continue growth, sobriety, and to begin the process full societal integration.
The Program’s success will be measured on an individual basis with the ultimate goals of the returning citizen becoming gainfully employed, secured in housing, socially responsible, and a contributing member of the community.