Successful QAP reform will bring housing justice to returning citizens.

RHLS Attorney and Director of Economic Development Laura Schwartz focuses on housing rights for returning citizens, and, recently, her work has paid off in the form of a successful change to the Qualified Allocation Plan (QAP) for tax credit allocation by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA).

Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) are the largest source of financing for affordable housing in the United States. It is estimated that LIHTC accounts for approximately 90% of affordable housing and have generated more than 3 million units since their inception in 1986. As such, those searching for deeply affordable housing are often encountering LIHTC properties.

PHFA allocates LIHTC according to a Qualified Allocation Plan (QAP) that, additionally, sets forth rules that LIHTC property owners must follow.  The Agency revises its QAP on an annual (or biennial) basis and, at such times, the public, including housing advocates, are able to comment on the proposed QAP and suggest changes.

Thanks to Laura’s advocacy work, PHFA adopted a QAP for 2021 that requires all LIHTC developments to have a clearly defined tenant screening policy that does not violate the Fair Housing Act and contains “reasonable and non-discriminatory policies” with respect to criminal background checks.

This advocacy is part of a larger pattern of policy work that RHLS does in the world of housing. QAP reform is the champion of rights for survivors, returning citizens, and many other populations that historically are denied basic rights such as housing. Check out the QAP advocacy process in this infographic.

Many people who leave jail or prison find themselves in a “never-ending sentence”, their application to live in affordable housing are rejected as soon as prospective landlords run a criminal background check despite evidence that the risk of recidivism declines over time and is greatly reduced by access to safe and stable housing.  While RHLS has represented developers that target returning citizens for their housing, many landlords deny housing to otherwise eligible individuals based on criminal history.

In 2016, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) issued guidance on criminal background checks.  The guidance argued that, because African Americans and Hispanics are arrested, convicted, and incarcerated at rates disproportionately greater than their share of the general population,  criminal-based restrictions to housing have a disproportionately negative effect on members of these groups. Under the theory of “disparate impact,” housing restrictions based on arrest records or blanket bans on applicants with a criminal record violate the Fair Housing Act.   

HUD recommended that, in order to comply with Fair Housing law, property owners and landlords replace inflexible tenant screening procedures in favor of examining tenants’ records on a case-by-case basis.

In 2017, Governor Wolf and Attorney General  Shapiro established the Pennsylvania Reentry Council (PARC) to identify and address issues facing PA citizens who are returning from jail or prison. Attorney General Shapiro’s office worked with  RHLS in revising the 2021 QAP. Laura Schwartz represents RHLS as a member both of PARC and the Philadelphia Reentry Coalition (for which Laura chairs the Housing Subcommittee).  

RHLS can provide legal assistance to eligible developers seeking information on how to establish screening policies that comply both with  Fair Housing law and PHFA’s 2021 QAP.

You can contact Laura for more information at laura.schwartz@rhls.org.