Jaz’s 3 ½ year old son had lived in a homeless shelter for his entire life. For the first time, he has a place to call home this winter.
When Jaz contacted the Legal Action Center, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) had denied her admission to public housing due to her 12-year-old criminal conviction. Despite the fact that she was hailed as an outstanding shelter resident who inspired others, had successfully completed countless vocational and rehabilitative programs, pursued higher education, and had been employed since her release from prison a few years earlier, NYCHA said she was a threat. The Legal Action Center, working with Jaz and the Legal Aid Society, filed an appeal, challenging NYCHA’s decision as arbitrary and capricious. Upon review, NYCHA reversed its decision, and Jaz and her children got their own apartment in public housing.
Jaz told us that her little boy asks her regularly, “We going to my house?” and she tells him, “That’s right. We’re going home.” She tells us, “He knows the difference. He has his own bed. In the shelter we were sleeping in the same bed.” But finding her way home wasn’t easy for Jaz. Of the NYCHA process, she recounts, “It was a nightmare. They make it so hard for you to get in. It’s set up as an obstacle course to see if you’re going to fall off or fail.”
Jaz wants people to know her story. She wants people to understand that there are countless barriers that keep people with criminal records from rebuilding their lives. They are frequently denied housing, employment and other basic life needs as a result of discrimination. “A lot of people are going through what I went through, and might just say ‘Oh well, NYCHA denied me’ and don’t know that they can fight it. You know how important housing is nowadays. It’s cold out here.”
The Legal Action Center was proud to stand by Jaz as she fought for her rights, and to stand by countless others who deserve a second chance and shelter from the cold.
Jaz sent this photograph of her keys to her attorneys on the day she received them. They still have incredible meaning for her.