CLEVELAND — After leaving prison four years ago, Malika Kidd knew she needed to find three things: transportation, employment and housing.
“Staying in Cleveland instead of going back to Illinois was a leap of faith,” Kidd said. “So it was a little scary.”
Kidd isn’t shy about her story. She speaks openly about her 14-year sentence for drug trafficking. Nearly 20 years ago, she was in her boyfriend’s car as they drove from Chicago to Cleveland when he was stopped by police.
She says the cocaine in the car was not hers but she was convicted and sentenced.
She was released in 2015 and started her re-entry into the Cleveland community.
“As I was searching for apartments - you put in the application, you pay for an application and you’re denied even though my sentence was 14 years ago,” she said.
Kidd’s husband was also denied housing because of his past convictions.
The two were able to find housing through a friend but not everyone in Cuyahoga County are that fortunate.
Experts say stable housing is an important part of re-entry and Kidd agrees.
“It can trigger you back to doing the same things that got you in prison before,” she said.
New numbers from the Reentry Housing Committee in Cuyahoga County show just how difficult it can be.
Data from 108 Section 8 Housing communities in the county was collected by the Northeast Coalition for the Homeless.
The committee looked at three different types of past convictions that could prevent someone from accessing housing: drug use, misdemeanors and felonies.
Forty-five housing communities said they look back at a person’s entire life to see if they have any drug convictions, 58 said they check someone’s entire lifetime record for a misdemeanor and 32 will check for felonies over a 99-year period.
“It can make you feel so defeated that you just go back to what you knew and what was easier to do,” Kidd said.
Section 8 is federally funded and there are regulations on applications. But, one local housing advocate argues they can go too far.
‘So the regulations initially are put in place for good reasons. We want to protect other residents, and, so violent criminals that come in that could pose a health or safety risk, those can be kept out,” said John Petit.
Petit is the managing attorney at Community Legal Aid in Akron.
“But the Housing Authority’s take the HUD regulations further and they impose much more strict regulations on people for a wide variety of criminal behavior,” he said.
According to Petit, the expansion of the regulations locally put barriers up that disproportionately impact the African-American community.
“It’s certainly a problem and I think you have to balance the rights of the tenants and the housing providers to know when somebody is a threat to the safety of others,” Petit said.
“But, as with anything, that can go too far and you can blanket band groups of the population - especially the population that may have a disproportionate history of being targeted by police or having a greater criminal record likelihood in their background.”
At the end of the 22-page study, the Reentry Housing Committee lays out recommendations. They address global housing issues, to changes that can happen in the community as well as what Section 8 Housing groups can do to help quell the issue.
Kidd said something needs to change to help people in the future.
“I think if people would change the policies or change it would be a better outcome for those and I think recidivism would decrease,” she said.