Among Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs are the lowest and arguably most important necessities humans require to exist; physiological needs. These include basic essentials such as air, water, food, sleep and shelter. Required needs. Not optional. Required. Housing is required for humans to survive, so why do we treat it as a luxury for those privileged enough to obtain it?
The idea of housing as a human right is not a new concept. It also has both international and national backing. There are entire organizations dedicated to just this idea! That said, there are currently no federal laws that guarantee a right to housing. The lack of acknowledgement that housing is a human right trickles down to Missouri where we’ve effectively criminalized instead of supported our unhoused community members. Further complicating this process is the difficulty that those with criminal records face in finding safe and affordable housing.
1 in 3 people in the United States have an arrest or conviction on their record. In Missouri the total number of people with an arrest or conviction is 1.9 million. 1.9 million of our friends, families and neighbors. These arrests and convictions can follow people the rest of their lives and interfere with people’s ability to meet their basic needs, including housing. When filling out an application for a rental, criminal records are typically asked about in a couple of different ways. The first is when a landlord asks if the applicant has a record and the second is by signing an acknowledgement that allows for the landlord to run a background check. When screening for potential tenants, landlords in Missouri are filtering out 1.9 million people.
What’s the solution?
Empower Missouri is leading a coalition of over 25 other organizations to bring a national initiative called Clean Slate to Missouri. Clean Slate legislation has passed with bipartisan support in 10 other states including Oklahoma and California. The vision behind Clean Slate is the belief that “everyone in America should have a fair opportunity to work, have a safe home, take care of their families, and contribute to their community.”
This initiative works to ensure that those with non violent criminal records have the opportunity to move on after paying their ‘debt to society’. This is done via legislative policy and advocacy. Slightly different in the 10 states that have passed Clean Slate, it generally works by passing legislation to “automatically seal or expunge qualifying criminal records for people who remain crime-free for a set period of time.” In Missouri, the current petition-based process is time-consuming, confusing, and expensive. Clean Slate legislation will remove those barriers and allow for more people to benefit from a second chance. Under the current system, only 1% of those eligible for expungement obtain it. This creates a gap between the intent of Missouri’s expungement law and its actual success. This is why Clean Slate is so important.
Once a person is eligible for expungement and their record is sealed, they can apply for housing without having to check the ‘I have a felony’ box or worrying about what a criminal background check will say when a landlord runs it. A mistake from 10, 15, or more years ago will no longer be a barrier to a safe home and affordable rent. Imagine being able to proudly declare that you have ‘nothing to hide’ on your background check. This is the reality that we are hoping for if and when Clean Slate legislation passes the House and Senate. This is what activists are fighting for in Missouri. This is the type of legislation that changes lives.
Clean Slate legislation (HB 352 and SB 347) has been filed in both the House and Senate, and HB 352 was just referred to the House Judiciary Committee. We are hopeful to have a hearing date announced soon! If you are interested in updates from the Clean Slate campaign, you can sign up for our email newsletter here, or sign on to show your support here.