Do Renters' past Crimes Matter? Study Says Often Not.

Finance and Commerce

By William Morris

Every landlord wants to find reliable, rule-abiding tenants. A new study by four local developers suggests screening for criminal history is not the way to get there.

Aeon, Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative, CommonBond Communities and Project for Pride in Living between them manage nearly 25,000 affordable apartments in the Twin Cities and western Wisconsin. A new study, drawing on more than 10,000 households that rented apartments from the four partners between 2010 and 2017, seeks to identify how past criminal convictions correlate to poor housing outcomes. The answer? Not many, and not for long.

Out of 15 categories of crime, ranging from prostitution to marijuana possession to domestic violence, researchers at St. Paul-based Wilder Research found only four with a statistically significant link correlation to adverse outcomes, including eviction for lease violations, nonpayment of rent and leaving without notice. Only past convictions for fraud, assault, property crimes and major drug offenses were found to increase the odds of failure, and only by 4 to 9 percentage points.

Even that may be overstating the case, said Lisa Wilcox-Erhardt, who presented the research results Tuesday to a gathering of industry leaders in St. Paul. Wilcox-Erhardt, executive vice president of housing and services at CommonBond, noted researchers controlled for variables such as age and income but could not control for mental health, substance abuse, unemployment or other variables that might correlate with criminal records.

“We believe this to be a really conservative overestimate of the impact these types of offenses have on housing success,” she said. “We’ll go with the 4 to 9 [percentage points], but we believe it to be overly conservative.”

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