Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved draft changes to rules that would allow people on parole or probation to apply for Section 8 housing, but dropped a plan to loosen restrictions on access to public housing.

Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Mark Ridley-Thomas proposed easing the regulations, including reducing the “look-back” period for drug offenses to two years.

The changes mean “giving people who are trying to reform their lives a shot,” Kuehl said, adding that under current rules, families are separated and ex-offenders may end up living on the street.

The federal government and City of Los Angeles already allow probationers and parolees to apply for housing subsidies. Federal officials began urging local jurisdictions to match those changes in 2011, citing research showing that offenders are less likely to commit new crimes when they have stable housing.

A planned vote on the issue was postponed two weeks ago to accommodate Supervisor Hilda Solis, who said she wanted to reach out to her constituents.

The vast majority of those in public housing turned out to oppose the changes, she said.

Kaieemah Davis, who lives in the Carmelitos Housing Project in Long Beach, told the board that she wanted to live in “a community where we’re not housing drug offenders … you have children who are exposed and influenced by drug offenders.”

Kuehl and Ridley-Thomas agreed today to limit the changes to applicants for Section 8 housing, which is not publicly owned.

Roughly 43,000 applicants are already on a waiting list for Section 8 housing.

At the current rate of turnover, it would take about 35 years to find spots for everyone on that list, according to statistics offered by the director of the county’s Housing Authority.

Supervisor Michael Antonovich said he worried that relaxing the rules would allow some ex-offenders to “leap ahead” of senior and disabled applicants.

Kuehl told her colleagues that the changes would “not allow any applicant to jump the line.”

Susan Burton, who runs a community program to help ex-offenders rebuild their lives, said the county should follow federal guidelines.

“This is the start but it’s not nearly enough,” Burton said, saying the regulations served to “punish people beyond the time that they serve for their crime.”

Some of those who had struggled with substance abuse themselves spoke out against making things easier for ex-offenders.

Renee Contreras said a two-year look-back for drug offenses was too short, saying that it took her seven years to “clean up.”

“We don’t plant weeds in a flower garden,” Contreras said. “We don’t need a bad seed that will grow and grow.”

The board voted 3-2 in favor of the draft changes, which will be submitted to federal officials for approval. Antonovich and Knabe cast the dissenting votes.

City News Service

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