How to Streamline Background Screening for Faster Housing Assistance

Learn how Smart Screen™ - TenantCheck Government can help tenant screeners make faster, more informed decisions when assessing housing assistance applications.
Smart Screen™ - TenantCheck Government can help tenant screeners
Smart Screen™ - TenantCheck Government can help tenant screeners

Public housing is a crucial tool for providing affordable and safe rental housing for over 9 million low income, elderly, or disabled Americans. The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides aid to this population through Public Housing Agencies (PHAs), which manage housing for qualifying households at affordable rent prices. 

However, according to HUD, public housing is lagging behind its occupancy goal due to the operational disruptions resulting from the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and strategies that streamline the operations of Public Housing Agencies PHAs can help improve occupancy rates. 

A major reason for the lower occupancy rates is the time consuming and complex background checks that PHAs must facilitate before approving an applicant. These background checks are critical for helping ensure the safe environment that tenants need in public housing, but they also frequently require extensive manual research that can delay the approval of an application. 

Smart Screen™ - TenantCheck Government offers a groundbreaking supplement  to traditional background screening that can help housing authorities and property managers more easily manage eligibility determinations and approve housing assistance applicants faster. This article will explore how this solution can help simplify and expedite the screening process and get applicants the housing they need as soon as possible. 

The Limitations of Traditional Background Screening

Organizations conduct background checks on individuals to help mitigate risk and ensure safer workplaces and communities. These background checks are performed in a variety of use cases, such as when considering applicants for a job or a tenant for a property. In tenant screening, after a potential tenant submits an application, the housing authority or property management organization will order a criminal background check.  

Typically, the tenant screening organization will receive the applicant’s information through relevant personal identifiable information (PII), which is usually some combination of first and last name, date of birth, and Social Security Number (SSN). The tenant screener will then investigate all known aliases of the applicant, such as a maiden name or a middle name. An address history trace unearths all aliases and addresses associated with the applicant-provided PII to ensure the screener is examining the appropriate jurisdictions for any possible criminal activity. 

The screener then often conducts a National Criminal (Nat-Crim) search, which pulls from publicly available data to determine whether there are potentially relevant criminal records outside of the places the applicant has lived. Typically, a Nat-Crim search provides pointer information that may be used for further investigation. Following a Nat-Crim search, a screener  will retrieve court record information from a primary source which may or may not correspond to the tenant — further delaying the process by weeks for potentially dead-end investigations. Since some states have charges associated with searching those records, these court record searches often lead to higher costs, as well. 

The problem with the traditional screening method is that the process starts with the assumption that there is risk associated with the applicant. This assumption is important for protecting communities, but frequently leads to longer screening turnaround times and higher costs from unproductive investigations. Studies have shown that 79 million Americans have a criminal record. Housing authorities need a faster way to move an applicant forward through the tenant screening process.

A Better Way Forward for Housing Authorities 

A major innovation in the screening process for tenant applicants, Smart Screen - TenantCheck Government provides an instant consumer report that can help move an applicant forward through the tenant screening process within seconds. Smart Screen instantly provides a “no incarceration or sex offender records found” consumer report when no incarceration records associated with the individual are found within an expansive proprietary U.S. incarceration data network and a sex offender registry data network.

Smart Screen leverages an incarceration data network that includes approximately 185 million incarceration records from more than 1,900 county jails and 30 state prison systems with data updated as frequently as every 15 minutes, and a sex offender registry network with over 50 sex offender registries

The combination of consistency, reliability, and timeliness of the “no incarceration or sex offender records found” report received from Smart Screen helps tenant screeners gain a clearer picture where there is an absence of risk associated with an individual — empowering them to move an applicant with no incarceration or sex offender records in the network forward in the housing assistance process with confidence.

For more information on Smart Screen - TenantCheck Government, view this recent webinar, “Smarter Tenant Screening: How Leveraging Expanded Data Sources Can Help Accelerate Your Criminal Background Check Process".

Smarter Tenant Screening - On-Demand Webinar

* Equifax Proprietary Incarceration Network, 2023