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Big Sky Connection - As Montana grapples with a housing shortage, people who have criminal records are having a harder time than most finding places to live. Their advocates say landlords typically shuffle applications for people with records to the bottom of the pile. Comments from Katrina Everhart, day supervisor; and Jill Bonny, executive director, Poverello Center in Missoula.

 

Click on the image above for the audio.  The lack of affordable housing has become an issue in states across the country, and it's even more dire if someone has to mention in their rental application that they have a criminal record. (BillionPhotos.com/Adobe Stock)

Eric Tegethoff

August 22, 2022

It's hard for almost anyone to find housing in Montana right now, but the barriers are even higher for people with criminal records.

Low availability and rising housing prices mean landlords typically have the pick of the litter, and they can relegate people who've been in jail or prison to the bottom of the pile. Katrina Everhart is in Missoula and has experienced the frustration firsthand.

"Every time I would fill out an application for housing it was such a letdown," said Everhart, "because every time I'd come to that one provision on the application, I would already feel as though I was defeated."

Everhart received a felony seven years ago for conspiracy to sell methamphetamine, but said she's been clean since then. She works as a day supervisor at the Poverello Center, an emergency shelter for people experiencing homelessness in Missoula.

Earlier this year, the Biden administration released guidance designed to make it easier for people with criminal records to get housing. However, housing advocates have noted it did not designate them as a "protected class," which could have helped stop discrimination against people with records.

But Everhart said there are other ways to make it easier for folks like her to find housing.

"One of the things I feel real strongly about," said Everhart, "is asking about the criminal history on an application."

Jill Bonny, executive director of the Poverello Center, agreed that allowing people to explain their criminal history could help put landlords at ease.

Bonny said she's written character references for her employees to facilitate this. Ultimately, she said housing is foundational to the other parts of people's lives.

"If you don't have to think about where you're going to sleep every night," said Bonny, "then you can spend time working on doing a great job at work, or working on your mental health, or getting caught up with your dental appointments. But when you don't know where you're going to sleep every night, that's all-consuming, and that's all you think about."