Even the support of President Trump and Kim Kardashian West wasn’t enough to secure Matthew Charles a lease on a Nashville apartment.
Sentenced in 1996 to 35 years in prison for trafficking crack cocaine, Charles was freed in January, one of the first prisoners released under the First Step Act, a 2018 law championed by the president and Kardashian West, who ensured that her 60 million Twitter followers knew about it. He was a guest of the first couple at this year’s State of the Union address and the president gave him a nod during the speech.
“Welcome home,” Trump said.
Even as Charles became a symbol of successful reform, finding a home would prove to be much more difficult.
His application to the Forest Park Apartments in Madison, a northeastern neighborhood in Nashville, was denied March 6, the Nashville Tennessean reported this month. Amy Jansch, a manager for the apartments, would not comment on Charles’s application but told The Washington Post that applicants undergo a national background check, and could be rejected based on prior felony convictions or an insufficient credit score. The Post reviewed a copy of an email from Forest Park Apartments rejecting Charles’s application.
Charles enlisted the help of a broker and thought he’d secured a second rental, this time on a house. Kardashian West’s team arranged to pay for it. But at the last minute, the owner of the rental found out about Charles’s criminal record, and the lease fell through once more.
When he learned he had lost the second rental, Charles told The Post that his disappointment was akin to what he felt when he learned he’d have to go back to jail after previously being released. He has been crashing on a friend’s couch since he was released Jan. 3 but hopes to secure a two-bedroom apartment of his own.
“It’s tough for a person with a criminal record to find housing even though you’ve paid your debt to society and have made significant changes in your life,” Charles said. “As a nation, if we want to reduce recidivism we can’t make it hard for people coming out of prison to succeed.”
Vanderbilt University law professor Christopher Slobogin told the Tennessean that “the law at both the federal and state level makes it very hard for an ex-felon to obtain subsidized housing, which is self-defeating if the goal is to reduce recidivism.”
Kardashian West tweeted Friday that she had offered to pay Charles’s rent in advance, and asked landlords to send him offers.
Her tweet helped elevate his plight: Though he has not found a permanent place to live, Charles said that some serious offers had been emailed to the address Kardashian West tweeted, and that he and a friend were following the best leads.
A representative for Kardashian West declined to comment.
Charles’s case is the latest that Kardashian West has brought to the public’s attention. In 2017, she, along with other celebrities, called for the release of Cyntoia Brown, an alleged victim of sex trafficking who at 16 was sentenced to life for murder in the killing of a man who had taken her home. In January, then-Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) granted Brown clemency; she will be released in August and serve 10 years of supervised parole.
Last year, Kardashian West successfully lobbied Trump to commute the sentence of Alice Marie Johnson, who was serving a life sentence for nonviolent drug offenses. Though her efforts were initially ridiculed, the results of her advocacy were undeniable. She has also used her star power to bring attention to the case of Chris Young, who was sentenced to life in prison for drug offenses. She had advocated for the legislation that helped free Charles.
Charles said he wanted to use his story to highlight the difficulties formerly incarcerated people face when trying to reenter society. Not every person who has been released from prison can have a celebrity or a president take up their cause, and Charles says he thinks elected officials must find legislative solutions to help others like him. He proposed a tax incentive for landlords to rent to people with criminal records.
“This has happened to people on a daily basis,” he said. “This type of injustice or discrimination that prior felons face, not being able to find adequate housing, must be looked at on a larger scale.”