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The Vera Institute’s Family Justice Program (Vera) is partnering with the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), the Corporation for Supportive Housing, the New York City Department of Homeless Services (DHS), and multiple nonprofit reentry service providers to develop, implement, and study a two-year pilot program that reunites 150 eligible formerly incarcerated individuals with their families in public housing while also providing them with case management services. This project is supported with funding from the Tiger Foundation, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and DHS.

The NYCHA Family Reentry Pilot will carefully screen 150 formerly incarcerated individuals who have been in the community less than three years and want to live in public housing, and provide them with case management services from reentry service providers with the goal of eventually adding them to their family’s public housing lease. This cost-effective approach could potentially serve as a model for a smarter, safer, and more economical housing policy nationwide.

Vera will serve as project lead and researcher for the pilot, which aims to demonstrate how housing authorities can utilize their discretionary authority to modify tenant selection criteria, and build on partnerships with community-based service providers and law enforcement to help families safely reunite.

Using quantitative data and information from participant interviews and focus groups, the evaluation will test several hypotheses, including whether or not formerly incarcerated individuals can avoid recidivism and improve their quality of life through stable housing and supportive services upon release from prison. Services will be provided by the Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment, the Center for Community Alternatives, ComALERT at the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, Exodus Transitional Community, the Fortune Society, the Harlem Community Justice Center, the Osborne Association, Palladia, Strive International, Getting Out and Staying Out, and the Women’s Prison Association.

Why Support Formerly Incarcerated Individuals and Their Families in Public Housing?

The increased number of incarcerated individuals nationwide has also increased the number of people in need housing and who are typically barred from public housing. For many of those people, public housing may be where their families reside and where they have the best chance of getting the emotional and material support they need to succeed.

Research, however, indicates that housing stability and family support are instrumental in ensuring success for formerly incarcerated inviduals. With those supports, they are more likely to gain employment, maintain sobriety, complete parole supervision, and achieve the necessary stability to stay safely in the community.

The NYCHA Family Reentry Pilot maintains consideration for public safety, but also believes that these individuals and their families would benefit greatly if public housing authorities reduced admission barriers to those with criminal histories.

In June 2011, Shaun Donavan, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development encouraged public housing authorities to open their doors to the formerly incarcerated, noting the importance of “helping ex-offenders gain access to one of the fundamental building blocks of a stable life—a place to live.”

By developing a greater knowledge of how best to provide these building blocks through innovative projects such as the NYCHA pilot, policymakers and practitioners can better assist recently released individuals and their families while also improving public safety.

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