We work to secure the housing rights of formerly incarcerated people and their loved ones through two main channels: providing temporary housing and advocating for fair and just housing policies at the local level.
Colorlines highlighted the work of the First 72+ in this video!
Both research and the stories of our members show that the first three days after someone's release from prison can make or break their future--especially whether or not they will return to prison. From this, the need to provide temporary housing and reentry assistance to FIPs is clear. Three local leaders--all formerly incarcerated at Angola for crimes they didn't commit--fill this need every day. After the success of another reentry program, Resurrection After Exoneration (RAE), our Executive Director Norris Henderson and Calvin Duncan took notes from John Thompson, the co-director, and launched the First 72+. The First 72+ is a transitional housing center in New Orleans that helps people coming out of prison safely and smoothly go back into their communities. This follows our principle that the people who have "been there, done that" are the best mentors and supporters for others going through the same experiences.
Read and watch more here:
advocating for housing justice
We recently launched our Fair Housing for All Campaign, which will ban the box on all rental applications in New Orleans. Check it out!
Our Housing Justice work, like all of our work, cannot be done alone. Our primary partner is Stand With Dignity, part of the New Orleans Workers Center for Racial Justice. In 2012, VOTE and Stand with Dignity partnered to push a new policy on criminal background screening procedures. From there we published a New Orleans-based comprehensive national report called "Communities, Evictions, and Criminal Convictions," which addressed how criminal convictions are used to exclude so many from basic necessities like housing. In January 2013, our members and allies packed into a HANO board meeting, gaining the attention of HUD, its national equivalent. For the next several years, we showed up in droves at back-to-back hearings, testifying about the dehumanizing experience of being denied the right to housing. Finally, on March 29, 2016, HANO voted on a plan to weigh the convictions of applicants for both public and Section 8 housing against a set of screening criteria. Applicants will then be either admitted or have their cases sent to a three-member panel for closer review.
Though this was a tremendous victory that proved the power of community organizing, the work is far from done. VOTE, Stand with Dignity and our other local partners such as the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, the Justice and Accountability Center of Louisiana, Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, Unity, and the Vera Institute of Justice will continue to hold HANO and HUD accountable. As one example, HUD recently announced a recommitment to "affirmatively further fair housing," with New Orleans as their focus. "Affirmatively" means they should be out front and proactive--a catalyst to push fair housing further than its current situation so that people can raise healthy families and build strong communities.
In the fall of 2018, VOTE and other key housing justice organizations launched a campaign to Ban the Box on all rental applications in New Orleans, so that private landlord and public housing authorities alike cannot discriminate against a prospective tenant based on their criminal record.
Check out our video about the work! We still have many ways to get involved. If you are interested in lending a hand to this work, contact Kiana directly.