Harvard Law Review Harvard Law Review Harvard Law Review

Civil Rights

Seattle, Wash., Ordinance 125393

Seattle Bans the Use of Criminal History in Rental Decisions.

 

As a result of their convictions, ex-offenders face many collateral consequences, including lack of access to housing. Landlords increasingly rely on background screens of prospective tenants to identify criminal history.1×1. According to a 2005 National Multi-Housing Council survey, eighty percent of its members (mostly “larger property owners”) screened tenants’ criminal histories. David Thacher, The Rise of Criminal Background Screening in Rental Housing, 33 Law & Soc. Inquiry 5, 12 (2008) (citing Jeanne Delgado, Security Survey Shows Current Premise-Protection Practices of M-H Owners, Multi-Housing News, June 2005, at 9). No similar survey is available for small property owners, although “how-to” manuals, “which are mainly targeted at smaller owners,” similarly recommend screening tenants. Id. Sex offenders may have an even harder time obtaining housing. Those on a sex offender registry for life are barred from federally assisted housing,2×2. 42 U.S.C. § 13663(a) (2012). and sex offenders may also be subject to residency restrictions3×3. Sex Offender Residency Restrictions: How Mapping Can Inform Policy, Nat’l Inst. of Justice, (July 25, 2008), https://www.nij.gov/topics/corrections/community/sex-offenders/pages/residency-mapping.aspx [https://perma.cc/SZ9M-9RCL]. and community notification requirements.4×4. Human Rights Watch, No Easy Answers: Sex Offender Laws in the US 47–53 (2007). Recently, Seattle adopted the Fair Chance Housing Ordinance,5×5. Seattle, Wash., Ordinance 125393 (Aug. 23, 2017), http://seattle.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=5387389&GUID=6AA5DDAE-8BAE-4444-8C17-62C2B3533CA3 [https://perma.cc/Z5RV-R3PU] [hereinafter Fair Chance Housing Ordinance]. which prohibits housing providers from making rental decisions on the basis of an individual’s criminal history, except for sex offenses committed as an adult for which the individual is on a registry.6×6. Id. § 2 (to be codified at Seattle, Wash., Municipal Code §§ 14.09.010–.025). Seattle’s ordinance will likely protect many ex-offenders in their search for housing. But its exception for registered sex offenders is inconsistent with the ordinance’s goals.

Seattle’s sweeping law follows the efforts of several jurisdictions to prevent or reduce housing discrimination against ex-offenders. These range from a complete ban on considering criminal history in Urbana, Illinois,7×7. Kate Walz & Marie Claire Tran-Leung, Sargent Shriver Nat’l Ctr. on Poverty Law, Written Statement of the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law Before the United States Commission on Civil Rights, Hearing on Collateral Consequences: The Crossroads of Punishment, Redemption and the Effect on Communities 14 (2017) (citing Urbana, Ill., Code §§ 12-39, 12-64 (2016)). enacted in 1979,8×8. Urbana, Ill., Ordinance 7879-92 (May 10, 1979). to the more recent and limited laws in Newark, New Jersey; Washington, D.C.; Champaign, Illinois; Richmond, California; and San Francisco, California, which restrict what criminal history a landlord can consider and require the landlord to perform an individualized assessment.9×9. Walz & Tran-Leung, supra note 7, at 14 (citing Newark, N.J., Rev. Gen. Ordinances, tit. 2, §§ 31-1 to -9 (2016); Wash., D.C., Act 21-677 (Feb. 15, 2017); Champaign, Ill., Code §§ 17-2, -3 (2016); Richmond, Cal., Ordinance 20-16 N.S. (Dec. 20, 2016); S.F., Cal., Police Code art. 49 § 4906 (2016)). San Francisco and Richmond’s ordinances apply only to landlords who receive public funding. Id. at 14 n.78 (citing Richmond, supra; S.F., supra). Not all developments have been in favor of ex-offenders, though: similar ordinances in Wisconsin were preempted in 2011 when the state legislature prohibited localities from placing these restrictions on landlords.10×10. 2011 Wisconsin Act 108 (codified at Wis. Stat. § 66.0104 (2015–2016)); Walz & Tran-Leung, supra note 7, at 15. On the federal level, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a 2016 guidance noting that, because African Americans and Hispanics face “disproportionately high [conviction] rates,”11×11. Helen R. Kanovsky, U.S. Dep’t of Hous. & Urban Dev., Office of General Counsel Guidance on Application of Fair Housing Act Standards to the Use of Criminal Records by Providers of Housing and Real Estate-Related Transactions 3 (2016); see also Nina Kucharczyk, Note, Thinking Outside the Box: Reforming Employment Discrimination Doctrine to Combat the Negative Consequences of Ban-the-Box Legislation, 85 Fordham L. Rev. 2803, 2805 (2017) (“[C]riminal-record rates are much higher in African American and Latino populations . . . .”). they are likely “disparate[ly] impact[ed]” by tenant criminal screenings,12×12. Kanovsky, supra note 11, at 2. which violates the Fair Housing Act13×13. 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601–3619 (2012). unless the screenings are justified by a “substantial, legitimate, nondiscriminatory” reason.14×14. Kanovsky, supra note 11, at 4. The HUD guidance stated that “[a] housing provider must . . . be able to prove through reliable evidence that its policy or practice of making housing decisions based on criminal history actually assists in protecting resident safety and/or property.”15×15. Id. at 5.

The Seattle Fair Chance Housing Ordinance is a comprehensive restriction on landlords’ ability to consider criminal history.16×16. The ordinance applies to anyone in Seattle who leases rental housing, except those renting out part of the “single family dwelling unit” in which they reside or the “accessory dwelling unit” on the same lot on which they reside. Fair Chance Housing Ordinance § 2 (to be codified at Seattle, Wash., Municipal Code § 14.09.115(C)–(D)). Its goals include reducing discrimination, reducing recidivism, and promoting reintegration through access to housing.17×17. See id. pmbl. (noting that criminal convictions disproportionately affect minorities and emphasizing the importance of housing in reducing recidivism and helping offenders “re-enter into society”). First, the ordinance prohibits landlords from automatically rejecting tenants because of their criminal history, and from “[a]dvertis[ing or] publiciz[ing]” that they will not accept tenants with criminal histories.18×18. Id. § 2 (to be codified at Seattle, Wash., Municipal Code § 14.09.025(A)(1)). Second, the ordinance prohibits housing providers from asking about or “requir[ing the] disclosure” of criminal history.19×19. Id. § 2 (to be codified at Seattle, Wash., Municipal Code § 14.09.025(A)(2)). Third, the ordinance prohibits landlords from carrying out any “adverse action” based on nearly all criminal history, except for sex offenses that were committed as an adult and are listed on a registry.20×20. Id. § 2 (to be codified at Seattle, Wash., Municipal Code § 14.09.025(A)(2)–(5)). Adverse actions include “[d]enying tenancy,” falsely “[r]epresenting that . . . property is not available,” “[t]erminating a lease,” and “refusing to add a household member to an existing lease.”21×21. Id. § 2 (to be codified at Seattle, Wash., Municipal Code § 14.09.010) (defining “[a]dverse action”). During committee discussion, the council members noted that landlords would still be able to terminate a tenancy or evict a tenant pursuant to state law, including for engaging in criminal activity on the rental premises. Seattle City Council, Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development, and Arts Committee, at 1:21:40, Seattle Channel (July 25, 2017) [hereinafter July 25 Committee Video], http://www.seattlechannel.org/mayor-and-council/city-council/2016/2017-civil-rights-utilities-economic-development-and-arts-committee/?videoid=x79283 [https://perma.cc/4B3Y-HPXE]; see Wash. Rev. Code § 59.18.180 (2010).

Housing providers can consider sex offenses that the tenant, prospective tenant, or household member committed as an adult22×22. Fair Chance Housing Ordinance § 2 (to be codified at Seattle, Wash., Municipal Code § 14.09.025(A)(3)–(5)). when the provider obtained knowledge of the offenses “solely . . . from a county, statewide or national sex offender registry.”23×23. Id. § 2 (to be codified at Seattle, Wash., Municipal Code § 14.09.010) (defining “[r]egistry information”). Washington’s sex offender registry consists of individuals who have committed sex and/or kidnapping offenses. Wash. Rev. Code § 4.24.550(1) (2010). Offenders are categorized based on risk: Washington provides information about Level II, Level III, and noncompliant Level I offenders online, while information about compliant Level I offenders is not available online but may be obtained from law enforcement. Id. § 4.24.550(3) (disclosure by law enforcement); id. § 4.24.550(5)(a) (public posting). Regulations have not yet specified whether Level I information obtained through law enforcement could be considered under this ordinance. Before taking an adverse action based on such information, the landlord must show a “legitimate business reason” — that the action is “necessary to achieve a substantial, legitimate, nondiscriminatory interest.”24×24. Fair Chance Housing Ordinance § 2 (to be codified at Seattle, Wash., Municipal Code § 14.09.010). To meet this burden, the landlord “must demonstrate, through reliable evidence, a nexus between the policy or practice and resident safety and/or protecting property” while considering six factors.25×25. Id. The factors are: “[t]he nature and severity of the conviction,” “[t]he number and types of convictions,” “[t]he time that has elapsed since the date of conviction,” the “[a]ge of the individual at the time of conviction,” “[e]vidence of good tenant history before and/or after the conviction occurred,” and “supplemental information related to the individual’s rehabilitation, good conduct, and additional facts or explanations provided by the individual.” Id. This individualized assessment is similar to the standard set out by HUD in its guidance on the consideration of criminal records under the Fair Housing Act.26×26. Seattle City Council, Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development & Arts Committee Special Meeting — Public Hearing, at 26:50, Seattle Channel (July 13, 2017), http://www.seattlechannel.org/mayor-and-council/city-council/2016/2017-civil-rights-utilities-economic-development-and-arts-committee?videoid=x78912 [https://perma.cc/M4YW-DZQN] (comment of Nick Straley, Columbia Legal Services) (noting that the individualized assessment in the ordinance is similar to existing federal law); see Kanovsky, supra note 11, at 4–5. If the landlord does take an adverse action based on an individual’s sex offense, then she must notify the individual of the registry information “that was the basis for the adverse action.”27×27. Fair Chance Housing Ordinance § 2 (to be codified at Seattle, Wash., Municipal Code § 14.09.025(B)). In accordance with federal requirements, providers of federally assisted housing can deny tenants who have been convicted of making methamphetamine on public housing property or who are on a sex offender registry for life.28×28. Id. § 2 (to be codified at Seattle, Wash., Municipal Code § 14.09.115(B)); see also 42 U.S.C. § 1437n(f)(1) (2012) (methamphetamine convictions); id. § 13663(a) (sex offender registry).

The Seattle Office for Civil Rights can issue guidelines and rules29×29. Fair Chance Housing Ordinance § 2 (to be codified at Seattle, Wash., Municipal Code § 14.09.035(B)–(C)). and investigate complaints30×30. Id. § 2 (to be codified at Seattle, Wash., Municipal Code §§ 14.09.045, 14.09.060). related to the ordinance. The Office can also attempt conciliation if it finds “reasonable cause . . . to believe a violation has occurred.”31×31. Id. § 2 (to be codified at Seattle, Wash., Municipal Code § 14.09.080). If no conciliation is reached, the City Attorney can file a charge, which will be decided by a Hearing Examiner and can be appealed to Superior Court.32×32. Id. § 2 (to be codified at Seattle, Wash., Municipal Code §§ 14.09.085, 14.09.095). The Hearing Examiner may grant compensatory and injunctive relief33×33. Id. § 2 (to be codified at Seattle, Wash., Municipal Code § 14.09.090(C)). and may assess civil penalties up to $11,000 for a single violation and up to $55,000 for multiple recent violations.34×34. Id. § 2 (to be codified at Seattle, Wash., Municipal Code § 14.09.100(B)(1)–(3)).

A draft of the ordinance originally allowed landlords to consider criminal convictions issued within the previous two years (referred to as the two-year lookback), with the same requirement of having a “legitimate business reason” for taking an adverse action based on such records.35×35. Memorandum from Patricia Lally, Director, Seattle Office for Civil Rights, to Lisa Herbold, Council Member (July 10, 2017), http://seattle.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=5305441&GUID=B959F462-C8C4-4DC3-9B12-1B0485B70EE6 [https://perma.cc/5WAB-KNLF]. This two-year lookback was removed for several reasons: First, getting rid of the lookback would help to decrease recidivism rates in the first two years because individuals newly released from prison would have greater access to housing.36×36. July 25 Committee Video, supra note 21, at 1:18:05–1:24:55. Second, there was no evidence of a relationship between having a criminal record and being a bad tenant.37×37. Seattle City Council, Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development, and Arts Committee, at 1:03:13, Seattle Channel (Aug. 8, 2017), http://www.seattlechannel.org/mayor-and-council/city-council/2016/2017-civil-rights-utilities-economic-development-and-arts-committee/?videoid=x79673 [https://perma.cc/A2SU-CQPD]. And third, before the ready availability of criminal records, there had never been “an outcry” that housing “was severely compromised” — this problem never “existed.”38×38. Id. at 1:03:45.

The legislative history is mostly silent as to why there is an exception for registered sex offenders, although statements by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray when introducing the proposed legislation suggest it was a compromise to placate landlords. Mayor Murray noted that the legislation was “balanced,” giving the sex offender exception as an example.39×39. Office of the Mayor, Mayor’s Press Conference on Fair Chance Housing Proposal, at 5:55, Seattle Channel (June 21, 2017), http://video.seattle.gov:8080/media/mayor/mma_062117V.mp4 [https://perma.cc/LHP7-G9LS]. Also, the ordinance lists the low recidivism rates of juvenile sex offenders as a reason for not allowing consideration of those sex offenses,40×40. Fair Chance Housing Ordinance pmbl. implying that the (perceived41×41. Adult sex offender recidivism rates are not as high as is generally believed. See Ctr. for Sex Offender Mgmt., Exploring Public Awareness and Attitudes About Sex Offender Management: Findings from a National Public Opinion Poll 2–3 (2010) (finding that most respondents in a national survey “presumed that at least half, if not most, convicted sex offenders will commit additional sex crimes,” id. at 2); Tamara Rice Lave, Inevitable Recidivism — The Origin and Centrality of an Urban Legend, 34 Int’l J.L. & Psychiatry 186, 186–88 (2011) (noting similar findings). Although research findings vary based on methodology, five-year sexual recidivism rates range from 6.5%, Lisa L. Sample & Timothy M. Bray, Are Sex Offenders Dangerous?, 3 Criminology & Pub. Pol’y 59, 74 (2003) (measuring sex offender rearrest rates in Illinois), to 14%, Andrew J. R. Harris & R. Karl Hanson, Pub. Safety & Emergency Preparedness Can., Sex Offender Recidivism 3, 8 tbl.2 (2004) (conducting a meta-analysis of ten studies in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom; about half of the studies measured rates of rearrest in addition to reconviction). By comparison, the five-year violent recidivism rate for all offenders is, according to one study, 28.6%. Matthew R. Durose et al., U.S. Dep’t of Justice, Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 30 States in 2005: Patterns from 2005 to 2010 9 (2014), https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/rprts05p0510.pdf [https://perma.cc/DF7N-GEXX]. The underreporting of sex crimes likely means that sexual recidivism rates are actually higher than the studies show. Harris & Hanson, supra, at 11. However, the “intensive supervision methods” in place for registered sex offenders may make it “more difficult for identified offenders” to reoffend “without somebody noticing,” reducing some underreporting concerns. Robin J. Wilson & David S. Prescott, Community-Based Management of Sexual Offender Risk: Options and Opportunities, in Responding to Sexual Offending 20, 30 (Kieran McCartan ed., 2014). ) high recidivism rates of adult sex offenders prompted their exclusion from the ordinance’s complete ban.

Seattle’s ordinance might be “the most progressive housing policy passed by any major U.S. city to date.”42×42. Nadra Nittle, Can Seattle Lead the Way in Creating Fair Housing Policy for Renters Across the Nation?, Atlanta Black Star (Aug. 30, 2017), http://atlantablackstar.com/2017/08/30/can-seattle-lead-way-creating-fair-housing-policy-renters-across-nation/ [https://perma.cc/X2M9-4GMG]. It will likely do much to help ex-offenders find affordable housing. But the exception for adult sex offenders is inconsistent with the ordinance’s stated goals of reducing discrimination, reducing recidivism, and encouraging reintegration into society.43×43. See Fair Chance Housing Ordinance pmbl. The exception calls for an individualized assessment that might lead to arbitrary or discriminatory outcomes. Denying housing to sex offenders may also increase their likelihood of reoffending. Additionally, lack of access to housing for sex offenders frustrates their reentry into society by reducing their feelings of dignity and their stability. Proponents of the exception might argue that sex offenders are particularly dangerous offenders. But that is likely not true, and evidence suggests that allowing sex offenders to live in rental housing would not lead to an increase in sex crimes.

The application of the legitimate business reason test might lead to discriminatory results because minorities are disproportionately represented on sex offender registries and the test’s subjectivity leaves room for bias. The racial disparity in criminal convictions that the City Council aimed to address also exists in sex offender registrations: a recent study found that “black sex offender registration rates were at least three times as high as white rates” in three states, including Washington,44×44. Trevor Hoppe, Punishing Sex: Sex Offenders and the Missing Punitive Turn in Sexuality Studies, 41 Law & Soc. Inquiry 573, 584 (2016). so even nondiscriminatory application of the test will likely disproportionately impact African Americans. The test is also subjective: although a landlord will need to show that her screening policies “accurately distinguish between applicants that pose an unacceptable level of risk and those that do not,”45×45. El v. Se. Pa. Transp. Auth., 479 F.3d 232, 245 (3d Cir. 2007). Although El discussed the employment context, the case “provides the most up-to-date guidance on . . . claim[s] of discrimination on the basis of criminal record.” Rebecca Oyama, Note, Do Not (Re)Enter: The Rise of Criminal Background Tenant Screening as a Violation of the Fair Housing Act, 15 Mich. J. Race & L. 181, 208 (2009). this standard leaves a lot of discretion to the landlord, such as in assessing the “nature and severity” of the crime or the extent of the prospective tenant’s rehabilitation.46×46. Fair Chance Housing Ordinance § 2 (to be codified at Seattle, Wash., Municipal Code § 14.09.010) (defining “legitimate business reason”). Fair housing testing in Seattle has revealed that landlords already screen tenants differently based on race.47×47. Id. pmbl. This discrimination, coupled with the difficulty of risk assessments,48×48. Even mental health professionals “cannot predict dangerousness with definitive accuracy,” although they “can often identify circumstances associated with an increased likelihood of violent behavior.” Am. Psychiatric Ass’n, Position Statement on Assessing the Risk for Violence (Dec. 2017), https://www.psychiatry.org/File%20Library/About-APA/Organization-Documents-Policies/Policies/Position-2012-Violence-Risk-Assessment.pdf [https://perma.cc/ZPL6-NAQJ]. may lead to racial bias in the application of the legitimate business reason test.

Denying housing to registered sex offenders might also increase sex offenders’ recidivism rates, making Seattle less safe. Given the correlation between access to stable housing and reduced risk of reoffending,49×49. Merf Ehman & Anna Reosti, Tenant Screening in an Era of Mass Incarceration: A Criminal Record Is No Crystal Ball, N.Y.U. J. Legis. & Pub. Pol’y Quorum 1, 20 (2015). providing full access to housing for sex offenders would likely reduce recidivism rates.50×50. See Heather Ellis Cucolo & Michael L. Perlin, “They’re Planting Stories in the Press”: The Impact of Media Distortions on Sex Offender Law and Policy, 3 U. Denv. Crim. L. Rev. 185, 217 (2013). Indeed, this was the logic that, in part, led to the City Council getting rid of the two-year lookback. There are fewer studies on the effect of housing on the recidivism rates of sex offenders specifically,51×51. Amelie Pedneault & Eunice Choi, Reassessment of Risk of Sexual Offenders Living in the Community 13 (2016), https://www.ofm.wa.gov/sites/default/files/public/legacy/sgc/sopb/meetings/board/2016/07/project_one_final.pdf [https://perma.cc/PAA4-WS75] (explaining that while studies show the beneficial impact of housing on general offender reentry, more research is needed to establish that this is also true specifically for sex offenders). but a New Zealand study found that access to housing was correlated with nonrecidivism among sex offenders.52×52. Gwenda M. Willis & Randolph C. Grace, The Quality of Community Reintegration Planning for Child Molesters: Effects on Sexual Recidivism, 20 Sexual Abuse: J. Res. & Treatment 218, 233–34 (2008). Additionally, lack of housing may make life outside of prison less appealing, and therefore make any potential return to prison less costly.53×53. Cf. J.J. Prescott, Portmanteau Ascendant: Post-Release Regulations and Sex Offender Recidivism, 48 Conn. L. Rev. 1035, 1063 (2016) (discussing how restrictions on released sex offenders “reduce [their] quality of life” and make reoffending “less costly”). This conception helps to explain why lack of access to housing — as well as other collateral consequences — makes it more likely an individual will recidivate.

The exception is also inconsistent with the ordinance’s goal of promoting reintegration. First, the legitimate business reason test will likely work to deny a large percentage of sex offenders housing, given the fear of housing those on the registry, in part because of beliefs in high rates of recidivism.54×54. See Ctr. for Sex Offender Mgmt., supra note 41, at 2–3. Given its consideration of factors such as time since conviction and good rental history, the test will also serve to deny those who are likely most in need of housing, such as those recently out of prison or those without a history of stable housing.55×55. See Hensleigh Crowell, Note, A Home of One’s Own: The Fight Against Illegal Housing Discrimination Based on Criminal Convictions, and Those Who Are Still Left Behind, 95 Tex. L. Rev. 1103, 1114 (2017) (noting that the first month after release is the most critical time to get housing); id. at 1134 (noting that current reforms, including the HUD guidance, “will mostly benefit individuals who have already succeeded in reintegrating into society”). Second, denials of housing to sex offenders may force them to live away from their support systems.56×56. See Walz & Tran-Leung, supra note 7, at 3–4. Third, lack of access to stable housing also makes it harder to get a job,57×57. Sarah Golabek-Goldman, Opinion, Homeless Shouldn’t Face Job Discrimination Just Because They Lack an Address, L.A. Times (Oct. 10, 2016, 4:00 AM), http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-golabek-goldman-homeless-address-job-application-20161010-snap-story.html [https://perma.cc/6P5G-CT8U] (stating that some employers will not hire individuals without a stable address). so sex offenders who are denied housing may have increased difficulties earning money and making connections with society.

One logical reason to single out a group of offenders is if they are more dangerous, as sex offenders are perceived to be.58×58. This is to say nothing of the public revulsion and anxiety provoked by sex offenders. Cucolo & Perlin, supra note 50, at 185–87. Such fears are understandable given the prevalence of sexual violence.59×59. See generally Ctrs. for Disease Control & Prevention, Sexual Violence: Facts at a Glance (2012), https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/sv-datasheet-a.pdf [https://perma.cc/5NC3-EVBW]. But two points caution against this argument. First, a large majority of sex offenders do not reoffend, and their recidivism rates are the same as or lower than other violent offenders.60×60. See sources cited supra note 41; see also Melissa Hamilton, Public Safety, Individual Liberty, and Suspect Science: Future Dangerousness Assessments and Sex Offender Laws, 83 Temp. L. Rev. 697, 707–09 (2011). Second, research on residency restrictions, laws that restrict how close sex offenders can live to places where children congregate, is telling.61×61. See Human Rights Watch, supra note 4, at 100–02 (describing residency restrictions); id. at 115–17 (describing research on their effectiveness). Studies suggest that these restrictions are largely ineffective, in part because child molesters often abuse children with whom they have preexisting social relationships, rather than those whom they are near.62×62. Sex Offender Policy Bd., State of Wash. Office of Fin. Mgmt., Review of Policies Relating to the Release and Housing of Sex Offenders in the Community 13–15 (2014), https://sgc.wa.gov/sites/default/files/public/sopb/documents/sex_offender_housing_201412.pdf [https://perma.cc/5ECE-2EAH]. A Minnesota study of 224 sex reoffenses found that the majority “involved offenders who gained access to their victims through another person,” such as by dating the parent of the child. Minn. Dep’t of Corr., Residential Proximity & Sex Offense Recidivism in Minnesota 2 (2007). Neighbors, however, did account for 8 of the 224 (3.6%) offenses. Id. at 14. But most offenses where the offenders “established direct contact with victims” (rather than met the victim through another adult) occurred away from where the offenders lived, possibly because the “offenders are more likely to be recognized within their own neighborhoods.” Id. at 2. Similarly, perpetrators of sexual violence against adults are also more likely to have preexisting social relationships with the victim.63×63. Ctrs. for Disease Control & Prevention, supra note 59. Although residency restrictions are in many ways different from the individualized denials of rental housing at issue in the ordinance, the failure of residency restrictions at least shows that what seem like commonsense policies aimed at reducing sex crimes may not work as intended (and, given the relationship between stable housing and recidivism, may even make communities less safe).

Seattle recognized that released offenders need housing and passed an ordinance to address that. The city even prohibited the consideration of juvenile sex offenses in housing decisions but for some reason stopped short of excluding all sex offenses. Sex offenders who have served their time need a place to live. Seattle’s ordinance will likely help many ex-offenders; it is worth considering, though, why it could not help all.