Securing housing is one of the most essential parts of a successful reentry, but it can also be one of the most challenging. The best approach to obtaining permanent housing is to consider it as three phases.
Phase One is to obtain immediate housing – a place to stay for the first few nights out of prison. In Phase Two, the goal is to find a place where you can stay for approximately one month to one year while you work to secure a permanent living situation. Fortunately, some Oregon counties offer assistance with these two phases.
Phase Three involves finding a permanent place to live. Your permanent housing may be with a friend or family, or it may be on your own; it may be under a private landlord or through a government-assisted program. You also may have a permanent place to return to immediately upon release from prison.
To prepare for Phases One and Two, reach out to your Parole Officer (PO) months prior to release to find out about the housing options in the community in which you will reenter. See “Housing Resources” for a county-by-county list of housing options near you. It is also important that your PO knows you want to secure housing prior to your release. This shows initiative and responsibility, and it will ensure that you have a roof over your head upon release.
Phase Two is an important time in your reentry process. As you adjust to life on the outside, you will need to establish some stability in your life to avoid ending up back in prison. Other sections of this Guide touch on the elements of reentry that contribute to a stable life (see “Establish a Support System”), but this is the time to seek mental health and/or substance abuse treatment and to begin building strong, supportive relationships.
As you search for housing, don’t forget about your PO! Although it may be difficult, given that he or she is tied to your county and state’s policing system, a strong relationship with your PO can take you far. Your PO has the ability to shape your reentry experience and can be a great resource as you work to build your reputation, find employment and secure long-term housing.
Other Things to Note About Housing
- Day Shelters
As an emergency option, there are various day shelters and limited-stay shelters (1-3 nights) around the state. See “Housing Resources” to locate a day shelter near you, but keep in mind that this list is not exhaustive.
- Rural Counties
This may not come as a surprise, but rural counties tend to have fewer resources since fewer people release to these counties. While this can make it challenging to find housing, it also means that parole officers may have a smaller caseload. Thus, it may be easier to work closely with your transition officer to secure the best situation for you. Some rural counties will allow you to stay in a motel room for a short period of time if other options are not available.
- Limited by Criminal Record
It is important to note that not all transitional housing, shelters, and halfway houses are inclusive. For example, you may be limited by a requirement to wear an electronic monitoring device. Some facilities may deny you housing because of your criminal record. Meaning that registered sex offenders may not be able to stay at a certain location due to its proximity to schools, churches, or playgrounds. To avoid confusion, contact your transition officer prior to your release.
- Meet Your Needs
You may release to a permanent housing situation (phase three), but that does not mean that you should skip the elements of phase two. It is critical that you establish a new and positive network, meet all of your basic needs, seek appropriate health services (including recovery and mental health services, if necessary), and build a positive relationship with your parole/probation officer.
Best-Case Scenario (Regardless of Phase)
If possible, seek out a positive, supportive family member or close friend who is willing to take you in upon release. However, be sure that this space is one where you will find support and not fall into the same circles and troubles that led to your incarceration. While searching for housing, it’s important to find a place where criminal activity and other situations that may be harmful to your mental health are easily avoidable. Keep in mind that, depending on the landlord, moving in with family or friends may not be the simplest option. Some rental spaces have rules restricting who may or may not be on the premises. Also, a landlord may restrict visitors and long-term guests.
If you do decide to live with family or friends, create a positive living environment by being a supportive and helpful member of the household. While you may not be able to contribute financially, consider offering to help with chores around the house. This is a great way to show the people around you, including a landlord or your PO, that you are responsible and hard-working.
Additionally, know that what your PO observes in that space will impact you, regardless of whether your PO saw you participating or not. Just as your behavior impacts those with whom you live, their behavior has an impact on you as well.
As with all aspects of your reentry, be proactive instead of reactive; meaning communicate up front and figure out if staying with someone will be a problem. This sort of initiative shows your PO that you are invested in your successful reentry, and it helps build your reputation. Ultimately, these small things can lead to references for permanent housing.
What should I find out before I move in with family or friends?
- Does the lease limit the number of occupants and/or residents?
- If so, will that limit by exceeded by your presence?
- If yes, is the landlord willing to make an exception?
- Can your name be added to the lease (if you want to be added)?
- What does that process look like?
* If you are considering being added to the lease, know that the landlord will access your criminal record. See “Renting with a Criminal Record” for more information.
Government-Assisted Housing, Including Section 8 Housing
- Have I informed the landlord that I am staying there?
- What is the timeline for reporting a new member of the household?
- How should I notify the landlord?
* In most cases, the landlord must be notified. If not, you could jeopardize your housing in addition to the person with whom you are staying.
*** NOTE: Use the list from the “Government-Assisted”/“Public Housing Authority” section to determine if you may live with someone even though you have a criminal record. You may be subject to a restriction, but in many cases the owner of the building has discretion to allow you to stay.
Phase One: Shelters and/or Transitional Housing
If you need (and do not have) immediate housing upon release, then a limited-stay shelters are a great option. Shelters are generally free, and often provide food, showers, clothing, and a bed for a night or two. Because many shelters do not provide for longer stays, this is not a phase two option. Be aware that securing more permanent housing will require hard work, which can be a lot to deal with mentally and emotionally.
Many rural districts in Oregon provide funding for a few nights in a motel room if shelters aren’t available. Contact your PO as soon as possible to determine the best option for you. If you are not assigned a specific PO yet, call the county Community Corrections office. Those numbers are listed by county at the end of this section.
Guest at Someone’s House or Apartment
While this may be your only option, be careful. Almost all landlords, including those partnered with government-assisted programs, define the word “guest” in a lease. This definition often limits the length that a guest can legally reside in that residence. That means you may jeopardize your host’s housing situation if you stay too long as a guest. To avoid any negative consequences, find out what the lease says prior to your release and be sure to follow the rules of the housing facility. Call the landlord or your Public Housing Authority to confirm what you have found, or to ask questions. See “Housing Resources” to find your local Public Housing Authority. “Phase Three…” includes details about what to look for are included under the “Phase 3” section.
Temporary Occupant Agreement
In some cases, tenants in government-assisted housing may obtain a “temporary occupant agreement,” which allows them to have a long-term guest. If this option is available, it is important to utilize it.
Phase Two: Transitional Housing (2 weeks - 1 year)
Transitional housing, although not permanent, is a good phase two option. While there are some exceptions (i.e. a county runs its own program or partners with private providers), most transitional housing programs run through private, non-profit organizations or religious institutions. Transitional facilities provide a structure to help you establish a routine, access mental health and/or substance abuse resources, and find employment. Many transitional housing programs offer food and other services, which can help to ease your transition into a non-prison environment. With some of your basic needs are provided for, that’s one or two less things you have to worry about as you focus on other aspects of your reentry.
Transitional housing options vary by type and location. See “__” to find a transitional facility near you.
As you search for a transitional housing facility, consider:
- Some transitional housing facilities require monthly rent, while others are sustained by gifts, state funds, or sliding scale payments (based on employment status). It is important to fully understand the payment expectations of a transitional housing facility before entering.
- Substance Abuse Recovery
- Non-court-mandated recovery housing can be a great option for those seeking a facility that focuses on recovery. These facilities do require that you be fully committed to your recovery upon entry, and provide peer mentors (people who are going through the same process as you) as well as services needed for a successful recovery effort. Recovery facilities can be either religiously-affiliated or non-religious, non-profit facilities.
- Additionally, most communities have Oxford Houses. The Oxford House network was created by former addicts, and their houses are operated by people in recovery. They provide a stable housing option where you can work and connect with people going through the same experience. However, you should consider that there is often a monthly rent due at Oxford Houses. Most counties will help you with the first month of rent, and may provide more assistance if you are showing progress in your reentry and recovery processes.
- Depending on your county and program, you may also receive substance abuse recovery services through a transitional housing facility that is not focused solely on recovery.
- Living Conditions
- In many of the transitional facilities, you will likely be rooming with another person in a dorm-like apartment. Also, there may be certain expectations that you are required to meet such as chores, meeting attendance, etc. While you may not feel completely “free” due to some of these requirements, transitional facilities provide a realistic picture of what your responsibilities will be as you move on from transitional housing to a more permanent setting.
- Most transitional facilities have case-workers, counselors, and/or a nearby Community Corrections Office. Although their presence may be unsettling, it is meant to ensure that you have access to all of the tools you need for a successful reentry.
- Unfortunately, the well-known, successful transitional housing options do have waitlists. Because there is often a long wait, you should contact the transitional housing programs that you’re interested in as soon as possible! Even if you are unable to secure a spot at the facility immediately upon release, you may be able to move there shortly after.
Phase Three: Long Term or Permanent Housing
Permanent housing can be difficult to obtain, as there are many factors that contribute to your ability to rent a place.
As you look for a permanent place to live, consider your income and whether you will be able to afford the new expense. Depending on your income, you may qualify for government-assisted housing. Your eligibility for government-assisted housing depends on whether you earn less than a certain amount of money per month. Keep in mind that the amount changes yearly. If you are considered a “low-income” household, then you qualify for certain programs run by the federal government. Call your county’s Housing Authority to find out if you qualify for public housing or a government-assisted program. See “Housing Resources” to find your local Housing Authority.
Most non-government, private housing options will want to see that you make enough money to cover rent monthly. If you’re looking for an affordable, private housing option, follow this link to access The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s “Affordable Apartment Search” tool: https://apps.hud.gov/apps/section8/step2.cfm?state=OR.
Your criminal record will likely impact your ability to rent both privately and through government-funded programs. Fortunately, you have the power to appeal denials in many cases. See “Renting with a Criminal Record” below for more information.
In various parts of Oregon, rent costs are rising.This may make it difficult to secure a long-term lease at an affordable price. While the rise in price may help you qualify for low-income housing assistance, these areas tend to popular, densely populated areas, meaning there will be more competition for low-income housing.
As you navigate this process, find someone to help you with the process! This can be a caseworker, advocate, close friend or family member, or a PO. Consider:
- Which phase you are in
- Limitations to where you can live based on your criminal record or parole/probation
- What kind of housing best suits your needs (private or government-assisted)
Renting with a Criminal Record: Private Landlords
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) implemented a “disparate impact” rule, and many states have adopted similar policy. Oregon’s version of this rule can be found in Oregon Revised Statute (ORS) 659A.425. Here in Oregon, even if a screening process appears to be fair on its face, if the result of the process negatively affects members of a protected class (persons of a particular race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, familial status, source of income, or disability), the screening process is in violation of the law. The statute defines protected class as
In ORS 90.303(2), the law states that a landlord cannot refuse to lease to an individual if their reason is based solely on the potential tenant’s arrest record. That said, a conviction or pending charge may be used to screen out potential tenants if it is a:
- drug-related crime
- person crime
- sex offense
- crime involving financial fraud (including theft and forgery)
- crime that would negatively affect the property or rights of the landlord or existing tenants (i.e. arson, manufacturing or distribution of a controlled substance)
Here are some things to keep in mind when dealing with a private landlord:
- Private landlords may refuse to lease to individuals with certain types of criminal records (see above). Private landlords, however, are not allowed to discriminate against individuals with any criminal record.
- If landlords are going to screen potential tenants based on criminal background, they must specify exactly what they are screening for.
- Landlords must give you a chance to explain your record. If the crime occurred a long time ago and/or you have had success staying away from criminal behavior since, make this known to your potential landlord. This is also an opportunity for you to provide information that shows you’re a good candidate for housing. Examples include:
- Certificate of Good Standing
- Explanation and certificate from a completed treatment program
- Recommendation from transitional housing supervisor
- Recommendation from your PO
- Recommendation from employer
- Description and nature of the crime
- Be honest with your potential landlord. Your potential landlord will be able to access your record, so it is in your favor to be open and show the positive steps you have taken since your conviction. If you downplay your record, your potential landlord may be skeptical of your trustworthiness.
- Landlords cannot deny you housing for a conviction based on past drug or alcohol abuse. Those “crimes” are considered addictions, and they are protected disabilities. Thus, landlords cannot ask about past drug or alcohol abuse. However, if you are currently using or selling illegal drugs, then a landlord may deny you housing.
- Landlords cannot deny you housing based on eviction filings that did not result in an actual eviction or judgment against you as the tenant.
- Even in a temporary facility, you have rights. Fair Housing laws kick in once you’ve been living in a place long enough to call it your main residence. This could be as little as two weeks (even in a transitional facility).
Housing Discrimination Help
If you feel you have been the victim of housing discrimination, contact the Fair Housing Council or Community Alliance of Tenants for help. Although both organizations are based in Portland, they serve the entire state.
Fair Housing Council
Available Mon., Tues., and Thurs. from 1pm - 4pm
* Primarily aids with discrimination issues, but can also help you navigate the housing system.
Community Alliance of Tenants
Available Mon., Wed., and Fri. from 1pm - 5pm
* This is not a live hotline. Leave a message and then they return your call.
Renting with a Criminal Record: Government-Assisted Housing and Public Housing Authority
What is the difference between Government-Assisted Housing and Public Housing?
Government-Assisted Housing provides low-income individuals and families with federal financial assistance or reduced rental rates. These low-income housing units may be managed by either the government or private landlords, but the government oversees the housing application process. Although Government-Assisted Housing is a great option for low-income individuals and families, the programs may come with restrictions, such as criminal record exclusions. This means that, depending on the location and your conviction, you may not be eligible to reside there.
Public Housing is a program, overseen by the Public Housing Authority (PHA), that provides housing to eligible, low-income families. The program includes Section 8 housing. Decisions to provide assistance are made on a case-by-case basis, but be aware that it may take time to receive assistance through this program. To find a PHA near you, visit the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s list of Oregon PHAs (https://www.hud.gov/sites/dfiles/PIH/documents/PHA_Contact_Report_OR.pdf).
One major difference between Government-Assisted Housing and Public Housing is that, with Public Housing, criminal record exclusions do apply. There are five kinds of criminal behaviors or records that will make you automatically ineligible to live in Public Housing.
The PHA may deny housing assistance based on criminal record if:
- You, or any member of the household, has been evicted from federally-assisted housing in the last 3 years for drug-related criminal activity. If, however, that member of the household has completed a PHA-approved drug rehabilitation program or if that member no longer lives in the house, PHA may provide assistance.
- You, or any member of the household, is currently using illegal drugs. Note that although marijuana is legal in Oregon, it is still illegal under federal law, which governs the PHA.
- The PHA has reasonable cause to believe that any member of the household’s use of illegal drugs or abuse of alcohol threatens the health, safety, and right to peaceful enjoyment of the property.
- You, or any member of the household, has ever been convicted of drug-related criminal activity for the production or manufacturing of methamphetamine on the premises of federally assisted housing.
- You, or any member of the household, is subject to a lifetime registration requirement under a state sex offender registration program. If your conviction occurred ten or more years ago, you may be eligible for expungement. (Add at later time: See “Cleaning up Your Record” for more information)
Public Housing Restrictions
The PHA may restrict assistance if you or any member of the household is currently engaged in, or has recently engaged in, the following:
- Conviction of the crime of identity theft within the past three years
- Illegal manufacture, sale, or distribution of a drug, or the possession of a drug with the intent to manufacture, sell, or distribute the drug within the past 5 years (even if there was no formal arrest or charge)
- Illegal use of a drug, or the possession of a drug with intent to use the drug within the past 3 years
- Violent criminal activity (the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force substantial enough to cause, or reasonably likely to cause, serious bodily harm or property damage) within the past 3 years
- Criminal activity that may threaten the health, safety, and right to peaceful enjoyment of the property within the past 3 years
- Criminal activity that may threaten the health or safety of property owners and management staff, and persons performing contract administration functions or other responsibilities on behalf of the PHA within the past 3 years
In determining whether one of the activities listed above applies to you, the PHA may look to convictions, arrests, or evictions that are related to criminal activity. Be aware that the PHA will more heavily consider your previous convictions than previous arrests. The PHA makes this decision on a case-by-case basis, meaning the PHA will look at your information separately from others and will decide based on the facts of your particular situation. You are permitted to provide information to the PHA that you believe will be helpful in their decision-making process, such as proof of mitigating factors (facts that may excuse or justify the criminal conduct) or proof of rehabilitation (statements from trusted individuals that show your personal growth or documentation of particular accomplishments). See below for examples.
Proof of Mitigating Factors:
- A period of time has passed since your conviction or criminal activity (the crime was not very recent)
- You were convicted at a young age
- Explain the nature and extent of your conduct. For example, perhaps your involvement in the offense was minimal
- Physical or emotional abuse, coercion, or untreated abuse or mental illness led to the offense/conviction
- Disability of you or a family member led to the conviction
- Provide context or additional information that may help explain the circumstances you were in when the offense occurred and why it should be viewed with more leniency
Proof of Rehabilitation
- Certificates or letters from supervising officers, or court documents showing completion of parole, probation, or other supervision
- Letters of support or recommendation from employers or other trusted individuals
- Certificates or diplomas for education or training you’ve received
- Letters or certificates for completing alcohol or drug treatment programs
- Letters or certificates for completion of rehabilitation programs
Special Housing Needs
How many women were primary caretaker?
How many were mothers?
Rose Haven - Day Shelter (Portland)
Things you can’t buy with food stamps: pads, tampons, shampoo, clothing, etc. Food on-site, and advocates on-site
Well Grace House - (Salem) religious, (not sure yet about prison reentry services)
Domestic Violence Survivors
If your conviction was related to the domestic violence that you experienced, this is mitigating evidence that helps explain your criminal record to a potential landlord. IF YOU FEEL SAFE DOING SO, you may want to explain the violent situation you were in at the time of your criminal conduct to a housing provider who is considering your criminal record, so that you are not penalized in your application.
Oregon Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence has an excellent website with resources, including shelters, around the state. Follow this link to search available resources in your county: https://www.ocadsv.org/find-help/by-county
Sex Offender Registrants
Although some counties work closely with sex offender registrants to secure housing, other counties do not. One way to work around housing restrictions is to search addresses in Oregon’s Sex Offender Inquiry System to see where registrants are currently living. This would allow you to pursue housing options in an area where you know you are able to live. Follow this link to access the Sex Offender Inquiry System: http://sexoffenders.oregon.gov/.