PHA Partners with 1st Judicial District to Support Returning Citizens

 

Judge Mou Signing

The Philadelphia Housing Authority board has approved an agreement to make it easier for returning citizens to find housing. The authority will take part in the Mentors Empowering Now to Overcome Recidivism Program (MENTOR). It is for people convicted of nonviolent offenses. Program participants will not be denied admission to housing solely on the basis of their criminal history. Judge Lisa Rau, co-founder of the MENTOR program, joined President and CEO Kelvin Jeremiah and Judge Michael Erdos of the 1st Judicial District at the signing.

MENTOR Program Eliminates Barriers to Housing

(Philadelphia, PA - April 20, 2017) - The Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) Board of Commissioners has approved an agreement to make it easier for returning citizens to find places to live.  The Board has approved a Memorandum of Understanding with the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania to take part in the Mentors Empowering Now to Overcome Recidivism Program (MENTOR).

The program seeks to interrupt the cycle of recidivism by providing supportive services to individuals who are reentering society after a period of incarceration. It is for people convicted of nonviolent offenses. Individuals with a history of firearms offenses, violent felonies or sex crimes are banned from participating in the MENTOR Program.

"At PHA, we firmly believe that second chances are important," said PHA President and CEO Kelvin Jeremiah.  "We have demonstrated that through our participation in the U-S Probation Office's Supervision to Aid Reentry (STAR) program and Second Chance Housing Choice Voucher program.  The MENTOR program is consistent with PHA's stated mission to open doors to opportunities."

One of the biggest challenges returning citizens face is finding housing and there is a troubling connection between criminal history and homelessness.  Under the PHA-MENTOR partnership, 20 qualified program participants will be added to eligible PHA households. 

Normally, PHA would not allow applicants with certain criminal backgrounds to live in public housing. However, the housing authority will consider participation in the MENTOR Program as a positive factor in assessing the participant's history.  Returning citizens in the program must meet all other eligibility and suitability requirements.  PHA heads of household must be in good standing and must be willing to add a MENTOR Program participant to their lease.

"MENTOR is thrilled to partner with PHA for this innovative housing initiative. Housing accessibility and stability has remained a challenge for many MENTOR program participants, and this new partnership is designed to counter many of the housing barriers our participants face on a day-to-day basis," said Common Pleas Court Judge Michael Erdos of the First Judicial District.

In the past fiscal year, PHA housed 10 voucher participants through its partnership with the United States Probation office and the Mayor's Office of Reintegration services to aid the reentry of returning citizens into society.  Participants in that program are selected carefully, with comprehensive and collaborative oversight by judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys, and a variety of social service agencies.

The MENTOR Program provides intensive mentoring, case management, and employment assistance to men and women who have pled guilty before the presiding MENTOR judge.  Participants are referred and approved for the MENTOR Program by the Defender Association of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office. They must regularly meet with their assigned mentors and appear before the presiding MENTOR judge in order to successfully complete the 12 to 18 month program. Those who complete the program will receive a reduction in their remaining term of court supervision. 

"This agreement provides PHA with the opportunity to remove barriers to housing for highly motivated, nonviolent returning citizens," Jeremiah said.  "These men and women would otherwise be denied the stability of housing, a factor with a recognized impact on the rate of those who are returned to prison."

This partnership will be managed by the PHA Office of the General Counsel