In my opinion, the letter is carefully constructed to send the proper message. It does not order PHAs to change their policies but reminds local PHAs that they have some discretion in this area and asks them to consider their policy.
I understand that PHAs are loath to attract any controversy but they need to take the lead on this issue. I hope this has the effect of encouraging an honest discussion about this important housing policy matter.
Here is Secretary Donovan’s conclusion and below is a PDF of the letter.
…PHAs have broad discretion to set admission and termination policies for the Public Housing and Housing Choice Voucher programs. When screening family behavior and suitability for tenancy, PHAs may consider all relevant information, including factors which indicate a reasonable probability of favorable future conduct. For example, evidence of rehabilitation and evidence of the applicant family’s participation in or willingness to participate in social services such as counseling programs should be taken into consideration by the PHA.
As President Obama recently made clear, this is an Administration that believes in the importance of second chances — that people who have paid their debt to society deserve the opportunity to become productive citizens and caring parents, to set the past aside and embrace the future. Part of that support means helping ex-offenders gain access to one of the most fundamental building blocks of a stable life — a place to live.