City Could Sell Homes to Felons
Committee overturns current ban on sales but proposal needs full council approval.
An ordinance approved today by the Common Council’s Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development committee would ease restrictions on felons purchasing properties from the City of Milwaukee. No objections were stated, but the new policy would still need approval of the full council.
Right now, when purchasing a property, an individual will have their criminal history scrutinized by the commissioner of the Department of City Development and may be ruled ineligible to buy a property if they are a felon.
Since Milwaukee is home to 53206, the most incarcerated zip code in the nation, Rainey said, it is critical that the council “leave no ambiguity” about the opportunities for felons wishing to purchase property in the city.
“I think it’s important that the city of Milwaukee demonstrates that it’s a clear path to building wealth, if you have the resources to purchase property from the city of Milwaukee,” he said.
The new ordinance doesn’t completely wipe out safeguards for the city in doing background checks on potential buyers. It would still be allowed to check for any existing health and building code violations, any open Department of Neighborhood Services orders and whether the buyer had a tax foreclosed property in the last five years.
Ald. Nik Kovac lauded the proposed ordinance from Rainey as an initiative in the spirit of the ban-the-box movement which seeks to prevent employers from asking applicants if they are a felon on job applications. “We want to give people a second chance,” Kovac declared.
Kovac said he was previously unaware of this provision, but added that it reminded him of previous discrimination against felons attempting to enter rent-to-own programs. Following incarceration, Kovac said, the debt to society has been paid and an individual should not be further punished.
“If they’re a danger to society, that’s for the corrections system to determine,” he said.
Ald. Jim Bohl shared an anecdote about public push back he once received after granting a felon with a record of selling drugs a license to drive a taxi cab. Bohl recalled that the driver had had a clean record for several years and yet faced obstacles to meaningful work with the felony held against him in job applications.
“Sometimes, Bohl noted, “little measures like this are rather significant.”