reports keep some out of housing market"
Times, page A1, May 22, 2006, by Patricia Cronin, staff writer
Addiction, poverty, mental illness and a lack of
affordable units are just a few of the barriers that can
prevent the homeless of Cape Ann from finding a place to
But housing advocates at
the Action shelter on Main Street say the No. 1 reason
people are denied public housing and housing vouchers is
because of the Criminal Offender Record Information
system, or CORI.
The CORI report is a
background check that covers all arrests and convictions
on an adult criminal record and sometimes that of a
juvenile if the individual has been labeled a youthful
Jim Noble, Action's
shelter manager, said he and other case managers have
seen old cases and misdemeanor offenses result in
rejected public housing applications from the Gloucester
Housing Authority. They have often had to go to appeal
hearings for shelter residents to show their support.
"Some people get (the
denial) overturned, and some never get overturned,"
One former shelter
resident who succeeded in obtaining a Section 8 housing
voucher was Ventura Guzman, who just moved into a studio
apartment in February. Action representatives
accompanied him to six hearings and asked to have the
Housing Authority's refusal based on his CORI
"Without that support, I
wouldn't have been able to get an apartment. I would
still be here," he said. "I had to fight wicked hard to
get out of here."
Thomas Cavanaugh, 67, who
has been with Action since the shelter first opened more
than 10 years ago, just received approval for senior
housing in November.
He said three offenses on
his CORI — an arrest for a stolen wallet, a charge
related to a hypodermic needle and an arrest involving
damage to a car — allowed the Gloucester Housing
Authority to label him as a "dangerous person."
"I ain't been arrested in
15 years," Cavanaugh said. "If it wasn't for this place
(Action), I'd be dead."
But groups such as the
Massachusetts District Attorneys Association have said
CORI checks are needed to protect those living in public
housing and those working where a potentially dangerous
person has applied to work.
"He does not believe it
to be in the best interest of the public or the public
safety," said Steve O'Connell, a spokesman for Essex
County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett. "His feeling
is that if a Level 3 sex offender or somebody with a
violent past, especially in public housing, is going to
move in next to you, you should be aware of it."
William Dugan, executive
director of the Housing Authority, said consideration is
given to applicants based on how long ago an offense was
committed and the crime involved. He said tenant
history, credit problems and income are also added into
the mix with the CORI information. The owner of the
property where the applicant would be placed also makes
the final decision to accept or deny the applicant.
By law, the person
undergoing the background check has the right to dispute
charges that appear on a CORI. Dugan said the individual
is also invited to speak with Housing Authority staff
about the circumstances and anything that has changed
"There's no automatic
trigger of denial of anybody," he said. "It varies based
on the individual."
Legal advocates say
mistakes are made because those reading the CORI
information are often untrained and do not understand
the legal abbreviations for closed cases that ended
without a conviction.
Inaccurate information or
charges that were never taken to trial can end up on
CORI reports, said Tony Windsor, an attorney with the
Massachusetts Law Reform Institute. He said many who
come to the institute for legal guidance have had
inaccurate CORIs with dismissed cases or not guilty
findings sent to the Housing Authority.
But Barry La Croix,
executive director of the Criminal History Systems
Board, the agency responsible for generating more than
1.4 million CORI reports each year, said those mistakes
are few and far between.
He said every housing
authority in the state is assigned a specific number
that automatically generates only the information it is
entitled to view — arrests, convictions and open cases.
Activists throughout the
state have lobbied to change the way that CORIs are used
by housing authorities and employers and supported the
pending legislation with a rally on Boston Common on
That legislation is
included in the Public Safety Act of 2006 and would
require public housing authorities to grant the
opportunity to contest the relevance of a CORI check,
permit housing authorities to admit former offenders on
a probationary basis, and change the length of time
offenses remain on CORIs — misdemeanors would be sealed
to non-law enforcement entities after three years and a
felony after seven years.
executive director of the Criminal Justice Police
Coalition in Boston, said she has seen CORI checks force
single mothers to make difficult decisions. CORI checks
on teens by the Boston Housing Authority have prevented
their mothers from obtaining housing or forced the
eviction of an entire family, she said.
"That means a mother is
forced with losing their home or losing their son," she
said. "Putting kids on the street is not what we should
If you are interested
in being a part of this series or have an idea for a
subject for this series, contact staff writer Patricia
Cronin via e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at
(978) 283-7000, ext. 3474.
On the record
Here's what you need to
know about CORI reports:
What is a CORI?
CORI, or Criminal Offense
Record Information, is a report that shows all
arraignments, convictions and open criminal cases for
adults or juvenile offenders.
More than 1.4 million
CORI reports are generated by the state Criminal History
Systems Board each year.
Who has access?
public housing authorities, colleges, law enforcement
and the media. The state has rules that allow certain
entities access to only a portion of CORI information.
How can I get my CORI
Download the request form
at www.state.ma.us/chsb/cori_forms.html or call (617)