PLBC proposes legislation to help with fair housing

HARRISBURG, April 9 – Members of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus spoke at a news conference today regarding legislation that would create a fairer housing market.

April serves as National Fair Housing Month, bringing awareness and advocating policy for individuals that have been discriminated against and wrongfully evicted, and educating residents on their housing rights and the resources available to them.

House Bill 96, introduced by state Rep. Donna Bullock, would prohibit landlords from inquiring or requiring disclosure about certain arrest records of potential tenants as a condition of a lease.

“In Pennsylvania, a person can be denied a rental property based off a conviction or even just an arrest — it doesn’t matter if it was years ago or even decades ago. Many times, individuals who are denied a lease were never convicted, completed a deferred judgement or have long since turned their life around. And when landlords use this tactic, it’s overwhelmingly used to be discriminatory toward Black and brown Pennsylvanians,” Bullock said.

“We must pass legislation that prohibits landlords from inquiring or requiring disclosure of certain arrest records — such as juvenile records, arrests with no conviction, convictions older than seven years and convictions that aren’t felonies or misdemeanors — as a condition of a lease. Housing is a right, and it’s time the commonwealth starts treating it as such.”

The legislation is being considered in the PA House Housing and Community Development Committee.

House Bill 1769, introduced by state Rep. Ismail Smith-Wade-El, would create an eviction record sealing policy to prevent eviction records from haunting tenants for years and protect them against discrimination and long-term housing insecurity.

“In a fair world, people would not be punished for a lifetime because one mistake or emergency led to an eviction on their records, but that’s the case for thousands of people in Pennsylvania today,” said Smith-Wade-El, who has made fair housing a legislative priority during his first term. “After an eviction filing, whether the tenant was found at fault or not, households often struggle to find housing, which can result in devastating consequences, including the breakup of families, the loss of employment, and even ending up homeless.

“My legislation, H.B. 1769, would help make Pennsylvania a more just place for Pennsylvania renters by giving them a fair chance at finding housing by establishing procedures for limiting access to eviction records. Our Fair Housing Access legislation is a commonsense step that would make it easier for working-class Pennsylvanians to access housing.”

Smith-Wade-El, who is the PLBC secretary, added that evictions are disproportionately filed against Black and Latinx women, and that eviction records may pose major fair housing challenges as more landlords employ automated tenant screening measures.

House Bill 1769 is being considered in the PA House Judiciary Committee.

Established as an official caucus in 1973, the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus was formed to empower Black legislators and to serve as an information and advocacy vehicle to advance the interests of Black, Latino and other Pennsylvanians of color. Many of the original members were afraid to meet in an open forum and had previously met in secret to establish a shared legislative agenda.