Room for Rent

In December 2005, at the age of 22, I agreed to 7-years deferred adjudication in lieu of facing a prison sentence. Naively, I thought I dodged the bullet and assumed probation was nothing more than a monthly urinary analysis. I quickly learned the err of assuming. 

Barriers associated with a criminal background can vary person to person based on resources and needs. Personally, I have faced barriers in employment, voting, education, licensing, and housing.

I lost my apartment while I was in jail waiting on a court date and moved in with my parents shortly after signing the plea agreement. Sixty days later my dad came home from work with a letter from the leasing office. The letter read that my parents had an unauthorized tenant living in the apartment and due to the fact that the unauthorized tenant had a criminal record, all parties had 7 days to vacate the apartment or face formal evictions procedures. 

My dad and I hurriedly packed and moved our two-bedroom townhome into a storage unit. As we were closing the storage, I overheard my dad praying. “God, this isn’t fair to me, in 17 years I have never been late on my rent and I am being evicted to no fault of my own”. I still hold on to that guilt. 

In 2008 three and half years into my probation, my probation was revoked, and I was sentence to six years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. After serving 5 ½ years in TDCJ, I was granted parole in 2013 for the remaining 6 months. I had no approved address to parole to. Majority of all my family and friends lived in apartments and I was in no way about to ask anyone to allow me to move in “under the radar” knowing the potential consequence, EVICTION.  

My parents found a halfway house that had room to accept me and made the sacrifices to pay the $600 monthly rent for the 6 months I was on parole. The house was overcrowded due to limited state approved halfway houses. Because the house was overcrowded, safety and sanitation standards were not met. I spent several nights sleeping in my car to avoid being bitten by bedbugs. The house was eventually shut down by the city. After discharging my sentence, I moved in with my best friend who’d recently purchased a house. For the last 7 years I have rented a room from him because despite being able to afford rent, no suitable property will rent to me because of my criminal background. 

According to the federal department of Housing and Urban Development there are roughly 580, 000 homeless Americans on any given night in our country. People with criminal records are 10 times more likely to be homeless than those without a criminal record, per data obtained from The Prison Policy.Fair Housing awareness month ends on the last day of April. However, like myself and the 1 out of 3 Americans, who have criminal backgrounds, we don’t have the privilege of “moving” on.  4 out of 5 landlords use a background check to screen applicants, so the fight for fairness and equity in housing continues.

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Written by: Norman Harris