PROJECTBreaking the Links between Housing Instability and Jail Incarceration through the Just Home Project

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  • In May 2022, the MacArthur Foundation and the Urban Institute launched the Just Home Project, a national program aimed at advancing community-driven efforts to break the links between housing instability and incarceration. Through the initiative, four selected communities—Charleston County, South Carolina; Minnehaha County, South Dakota; the City and County of San Francisco, California; and Tulsa County, Oklahoma—will receive grant funding from MacArthur and technical assistance and coordination from Urban to create a plan to address this crisis in their community. At the completion of their planning process, each community will be eligible to receive an investment from MacArthur from a $15 million pool of impact-investment funding to implement their plan and acquire or develop housing for populations that are not being served by current housing resources.

    Urban’s technical assistance and coordination is supported by a cross-center team that includes the Research to Action Lab, the Justice Policy Center, and the Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center. Their work is guided by a national steering committee composed of leaders with expertise in affordable housing, the criminal legal system, community engagement, and racial equity, as well as people who have directly experienced housing instability or jail incarceration.

    Understanding the problem

    The barriers to housing faced by people with criminal justice involvement are well documented. People detained or incarcerated, even for short periods, may experience job loss or other financial harms that threaten their existing housing. Limited access to housing vouchers, housing eligibility requirements, discriminatory screening practices, and high housing costs can all complicate efforts to find stable housing. 

    Securing affordable, stable housing is already difficult for households of color, which face historical discrimination from federal policies, predatory practices in lending and renting, and fewer protections from enforcement of fair-housing laws. These pressures are particularly acute for people of color who have had previous contact with the criminal justice system. Statistics show that people of color are overrepresented among jail and homeless populations. 

    Research has shown that severe housing instability, in the form of chronic homelessness, can increase a person’s risk of becoming involved with the justice system because many behaviors associated with homelessness—such as sleeping, sitting, and asking for money or resources in public spaces—have been criminalized. Nationally, researchers have found that someone in jail is between 7.5 and 11.3 times more likely to have been homeless than someone with no history of jail incarceration.

    During the COVID-19 pandemic, some jails released people and blocked admittance to help curb in-jail infection spread. However, the number of people released outpaced the resources to keep them sheltered, which further perpetuated the homelessness-jail cycle.

    Materials

    Project Launch Press Release
    This press release from the MacArthur Foundation announces the launch of the Just Home Project. It describes how the project goals, partners, and funding structure will contribute to improved housing outcomes for people affected by the criminal justice system.

    How Can Counties Create Housing Stability for Justice-Involved People?
    This blog post explains why understanding past harms is an important first step to expanding housing opportunities for people formerly involved with the justice system, as well as the role that counties can play in supporting programs and policies that can improve housing for those affected.

    Funding Housing Solutions to Reduce Jail Incarceration
    This report presents four approaches to housing programs and policies that show promise for reducing jail incarceration and addressing structural barriers, as well as funding options for such approaches.

    Project staff members

    Kelly Walsh
    Katie Fallon
    Jesse Jannetta
    Bill Pitkin
    Tracey Rutnik
    Emma Fernandez
    Samantha Fu
    Andrew Campbell
    Jessica Perez
    Natalie Lima

    This page will be updated as new reports and products are made public. Last updated on May 18, 2022.