Measure will protect over 1 million people in Cook County from housing discrimination


Just Housing supporters celebrate after the rules pass out of committee

 After months of debate, the Cook County Board of Commissioners has voted to approve final rules on how to implement the Just Housing Amendment, clearing the way for the measure to take effect on December 31, 2019. The amendment protects more than one million residents of Cook County and their families by giving people with arrest and conviction records a fair chance at finding housing in Cook County.

The Just Housing Initiative, which Housing Action Illinois co-chairs with the Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance, has worked for years to achieve this major step toward economic and racial justice for families. Fair access to a safe, affordable home is fundamental to building a stable life and caring for yourself and your family. Research shows that when individuals with records have stable homes, recidivism rates are reduced.

The leadership, testimony, advocacy, and enduring support of people with lived experience was critical to the passage of the amendment. Just Housing Leaders changed hearts and minds by sharing their personal challenges in trying to find a place to call home and making it clear that this amendment is needed by real people, struggling to find housing at this very moment.

In accordance with the final rules passed on November 21, the Just Housing Amendment:

  • Ensures that housing providers and housing authorities do not consider arrests, juvenile records, and sealed and expunged records when evaluating someone’s application for rental housing;
  • Protects tenants and homeowners from being denied housing based on convictions greater than three years old; and
  • Requires housing providers to conduct an individualized assessment for applicants with convictions that are less than three years old, considering factors such as the nature of the offense and how much time has passed since it happened.

One in three Americans has an arrest record before they turn 23. Blanket housing bans against people with records disproportionately impacts Black and Brown families as well as people with disabilities; they are often an avenue for race- and disability-based discrimination. Jurisdictions across the country have passed similar fair housing measures as an integral component of criminal justice reform.

The Cook County protections will go into effect before the coldest months of winter set in, helping fight housing instability for the most vulnerable members of our community.

This victory is all the more notable given the significant opposition that the Just Housing Initiative and our supporters faced. We spent four years working to pass the Just Housing Amendment and another seven months working to pass rules to implement it. Together, the Just Housing Initiative’s 100+ supporting organizations and allies prevailed, and we are grateful to everyone who wrote and called the commissioners, testified at hearings, spoke with decisionmakers, and otherwise supported the amendment. The Just Housing Coalition’s steering committee includes Alliance to End Homelessness in Suburban Cook County, Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance, Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, Community Renewal Society, Housing Action Illinois, Housing Choice Partners, John Marshall Law School Fair Housing Legal Clinic, Safer Foundation, Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, Supportive Housing Providers Association, Westside Health Authority, and the Woodstock Institute.

Chief Sponsor Commissioner Brandon Johnson, early champions and co-sponsors Commissioner Larry Suffredin and Commissioner Jeffrey Tobolski, additional sponsoring commissioners, and support from President Preckwinkle all combined to ensure passage of the amendment and demonstrated that Cook County is committed to being a place where families can thrive and everyone can have a fair chance to access stable housing. The Cook County Human Rights Commission spent considerable time delving into the issue and discussing how to best implement the measure, and we are grateful for their thoughtful consideration and dedication to enacting and enforcing this legislation.

The Just Housing Initiative will be doing education and outreach with would-be tenants, landlords, and members of the public to help people understand the new protections in 2020.