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Opinion | All Michigan residents deserve fair housing access

“Where am I going to sleep tonight?”  

As a career police executive and a resident of Genesee County, I have personally observed the severe consequences that result from neglect, homelessness, and the marginalization of certain communities. My firsthand experience has shown the detrimental and enduring effects of systemic housing insecurity for both individuals and communities. Which is why I support the Fair Chance Access to Housing Act, a critical policy that provides individuals with criminal records a fair chance to secure a safe and stable living environment. This policy represents a crucial stride towards establishing a more equitable and just society for all.

Christopher Swanson
Christopher Swanson serves as the Genesee County Sheriff.

Homelessness is not just a national issue. Right here in Genesee County there are more than 200 individuals living in emergency shelters every night; countless others are sleeping on couches, living on the streets, sleeping in vehicles, or staying in abandoned buildings. Homelessness can happen to anyone. Just last year, nearly 4,000 people experienced homelessness in the City of Flint and Genesee County community, with 11 percent of this population unsheltered, living on the streets or in other places not suitable for dwelling.

Rising housing costs, mental illness, substance misuse, and a host of other factors contribute to the increasing homelessness rate in any community throughout America. Living on the streets is a brutal existence for men, women, and children. Shelters are far from ideal and feature only short-term stays, and congregate settings that can exacerbate health conditions rather than providing the kind of help people need to obtain housing. When individuals with criminal records are unable to secure housing, many are forced to live in overcrowded and unsafe conditions. This can lead to increased rates of crime, addictions, and violence in the surrounding areas.

Too often, individuals who have been involved in the criminal legal system are denied housing opportunities, even if their offenses are minor or occurred many years ago. This creates a cycle of homelessness and instability that can ultimately lead to further involvement with the criminal legal system.

The Fair Chance Access to Housing Act is a crucial step toward creating a more just and equitable society. It provides individuals who have already paid their debt to society with the opportunity to secure a stable and safe place to call home. By removing discriminatory barriers, this policy helps to reduce the negative consequences of a criminal record and promotes successful re-entry into the community.

The concept of “home” transcends beyond a mere physical address. Home symbolizes stability, and a safe place to close your eyes at the end of a long day. Without the permanency that a home brings, and the pieces that help to create a stable life — like a job and a family — often don’t fall into place, either.  Prospective employers typically request an applicant's address before extending a job offer. Consequently, without a home or employment, achieving self-sufficiency for a family is nearly impossible.

Research proves that formerly incarcerated people who have safe, affordable housing are among the least likely to return to prison. Surprisingly, I still find those opposed to stable housing. Perhaps they are not excited, or maybe, it might make more sense if it were their loved one. Let’s work together.  Tenants, landlords, financial institutions, and every other stakeholder willing to make historic change. 

The Fair Chance Access to Housing Act is an essential measure that fosters public safety, curbs recidivism, and empowers individuals with criminal histories to obtain stable housing. As a sheriff, it is incumbent upon me to support initiatives that establish fairer and more secure and safe communities. The implementation of the Fair Chance Housing Act is a significant stride in this direction. 

“Where am I going to sleep tonight?  In my own bed.” 

Problem solved.

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