Monday, October 18, 2021
Oct. 18, 2021

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Ex-convicts face housing blockade in Southwest Washington

Apartments hard to come by for those with criminal pasts

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WOODLAND — Bradley Gott of Woodland has two associate’s degrees, a full-time job and enough money for a down payment on a rental. But he still can’t land an apartment, thanks to a 2015 felony burglary conviction.

Commercial property management companies often bar people with criminal backgrounds from renting, preventing former convicts from finding stable housing. The blockade, Gott said, is preventing the 30-year-old from moving on with his life.

“It doesn’t give people, who are actively changing their lives, a fair opportunity,” he said. “They just see the conviction, and it’s an automatic denial. To me it just seems like a bias.”

Housing struggles

Gott said he has been living with his aunt in Woodland since his March release from prison. Starting around April, he searched for four months to find rentals that would accept his background, and came up short.

Commercial property companies often don’t rent to ex-convicts.

Catlin Properties in Kelso lists violent felony convictions like murder, arson and sex crimes as automatic disqualifications for renting. Renters with other felony convictions within the last seven years, and gross misdemeanors within the last three years, also are barred.

SunWorld Group, a property management company in Longview and Vancouver, lists similar stipulations. Applicants with convictions or guilty pleas for felonies like kidnapping, rape and burglary may be denied, as well as those pending charges or warrants.

Gott said he was arrested in Yakima for stealing guns from a home to sell for drug money and was convicted in 2015. He said his “whole outlook on life changed” while in prison. He joined Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous and earned two associate degrees.

“That much time in there allowed me to take a look at my life and value what’s important to me,” he said.

Now on the outside, Gott is facing new barriers. The property management stipulations forced Gott to try private renters, which he said offered “run-down” apartments for high prices. Exhausted of options, Gott took out a $200,000 loan to purchase his own home.

DOC help

Washington State Department of Corrections Deputy Communications Director Rachel Ericson said counselors help prisoners look for housing before their scheduled release date as “a foundational piece to a successful re-entry.”

“It provides stability as individuals are re-entering the community, acting as a launch pad,” she said.

Housing must be approved before release to ensure living arrangements won’t violate inmates’ court-ordered conditions of sentencing or entice them to reoffend, she said. If inmates can’t find housing by their maximum incarceration date, Ericson said they are given a voucher to stay at locations that accept the certificates.

‘Doesn’t seem fair’

Gott went to his aunt’s house after prison, but others have to find housing outside of a relative’s or a friend’s home.

Bonnie Eichentopf has been looking for rentals for her son, who is set to be released from prison in February, to no avail. She said it wouldn’t be “feasible” for him to live at her rural house without a vehicle, so she started searching for rentals that will accept ex-convicts. She said she provides her son contact information for possible rentals, in addition to the help he receives in prison, but there are few options.

Her 39-year-old son, Steve, was the captain of the R.A. Long High School football team, she said, before he started using hard drugs as a teen. He was convicted of second-degree manslaughter in 2020 in Cowlitz County after providing heroin to a man who overdosed.

Eichentopf said she can see her son’s growth during his roughly two years in prison, and hates to see him continue to struggle as he tries to move on.

“It breaks my heart,” she said. “It just doesn’t seem fair at all.”

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