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Background screening for criminal history

Background screening for criminal history

SHA believes that policies which automatically ban persons with a criminal history from housing programs contribute to social justice issues, pose barriers to family reunification and access to affordable housing, and can contribute to systemic homelessness.

When an applicant nears the top of a waiting list for federally subsidized housing1 and has been selected for a pre-approval interview, SHA is required by federal regulationsto run a background check of adult household members, including a review of criminal convictions consistent with federal regulations to confirm the eligibility of household members. SHA does not automatically ban persons with criminal history from housing programs and will consider each applicant’s criminal history on a case-by-case basis in a secondary review, as explained further below. As part of this review, SHA is required to distinguish between criminal conduct that indicates a demonstrable risk to resident safety and/or property and criminal conduct that does not. Federal rules require that SHA deny admission to federally subsidized housing to any applicant who:

  • Is subject to a lifetime registration requirement for a sexual offense in any state (or, in Washington State, a continuing indefinite registration requirement) or
  • Has been convicted of manufacture or production of methamphetamine on the premises of federally assisted housing.

In all other situations criminal history within a two (2) year look back period is assessed. This may include a review of an applicant’s criminal history of convictions through the secondary case-by-case review process that allows for applicants to either demonstrate that a record of past criminal behavior is incorrect, or that past criminal conduct is not indicative of the applicant’s chance for future success in a housing program.  When evaluating past criminal history, SHA may consider circumstances such as:

  • The nature, severity, and recency of the criminal conduct
  • The extent to which the applicant has accepted responsibility for the criminal conduct
  • Completion of or on-going involvement in rehabilitative programming
  • Involvement in volunteer work, employment, educational activity, training programs, support groups, civic groups, or other related activities benefitting the community
  • Changed circumstances since the conviction
  • Successful participation in drug court, mental health court or other rehabilitative court programs
  • Past success in housing or meeting similar types of obligations

Before SHA denies admission to an applicant on the basis of a criminal record, SHA will notify the applicant of the proposed action and will provide them with a copy of the criminal record, so they may dispute the accuracy and relevance of that record.

If you have questions about the background check or secondary review process for SHA’s federally subsidized housing, please contact a SHA Housing Counselor at 206-239-1737.  

The Fair Chance Housing legislation in its entirety applies to screening for housing that is not federally subsidized. SHA does not run criminal background checks when evaluating applicants for non-federally subsidized housing however applicants are screened through county, state and national sex offender registries.  

1Federally assisted housing includes: Low Income Public Housing, Housing Choice Vouchers (project-based and tenant-based), most Seattle Senior Housing Program.
2Applicable federal regulations found in 24 CFR Part 5.854, 5.856 and 5.857; 960.203 and 42 USC 13661.