- Associated Press - Thursday, July 21, 2016

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - The state Supreme Court has ruled that housing officials improperly removed a man from Connecticut’s rental assistance program because his name was on the state’s sex offender registry.

The state Housing Department issued a regulation in 2012 that made those on the registry ineligible for housing assistance.

But the court ruled Thursday that the regulation cannot be applied retroactively to those who already were in the program.

The ruling, which overturns a lower court decision, comes in the case of Francis Shannon, a legally blind Hartford man who lost his rental assistance in 2013.

Shannon, 50, had been identified as chronically homeless before receiving rental and other assistance in 2009. His status as a sex offender was known to housing officials, but at the time was not a barrier to receiving assistance, said Cecil Thomas, his attorney.

“He had moved from, at one point, living under a bridge to stable housing,” Thomas said. “The court ruled those rights should be protected and I think that is a decision consistent with good public policy.”

Shannon had been convicted in 1997 of endangering the welfare of a child in New Jersey, a crime Thomas described as non-violent and “relatively minor” and of public indecency in 2000 in Connecticut.

The state argued unsuccessfully that it was not acting retroactively in removing Shannon from the program, but was instead denying him future benefits he might receive.

But the court ruled that the Housing Department had retroactively added requirements into his admittance into the program.

“Given that the plaintiff was properly admitted into the rental program as a sex offender, the use of his sex offender status, an event that preceded his entry into the rental program, his receipt of benefits, and the promulgation of the regulations, to terminate his benefits constitutes a ‘new obligation,’” Justice Richard Robinson wrote on behalf of a the 4-1 majority.

The attorney general’s office said it was reviewing the decision Thursday with Housing Department officials. The office could not say how many people would be affected by the ruling.

Thomas said a lower court will decide whether Shannon is simply returned to the program or receives benefits dating from when he was removed from the program. That money, Thomas said would help pay off a debt his client owes to his landlord.

Shannon was eventually evicted from his home after being removed from the program, but has since found other housing with the assistance of a local non-profit agency, Thomas said.

Shelly White, the litigation director for New Haven’s legal aid office, said her office and other advocates for the homeless will now concentrate their efforts into getting the regulation rescinded.

She said using the registry to determine suitability for housing assistance is improper.

“One’s status on the registry is not really reflective of recidivism or dangerousness or anything,” she said. “It’s counterproductive.”

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