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'Crime-Free' Rental Housing Halted After Cases of Discrimination

The Southern California desert city of Hesperia ended a "crime-free" rental housing program that the U.S. Department of Justice said discriminated against Black and Latino tenants. The city and the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, which enforced the program, have halted the 2015 ordinance that required property owners to evict tenants the sheriff’s department claimed had engaged in criminal activity on or near the property, even if the tenants weren't arrested, charged or convicted. In a proposed consent order filed in federal court, neither the city nor the county admitted wrongdoing but agreed to contribute $670,000 to a settlement fund to compensate people harmed by the program, reports Courthouse News Service. It is the first Justice Department resolution requiring the complete end of a “crime-free” rental housing program. "So-called ‘crime-free’ ordinances are often fueled by racially discriminatory objectives, destabilize communities and promote modern-day racial segregation,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the DOJ Civil Rights Division said. “These ordinances can uproot lives, force families into homelessness, and result in loss of jobs, schooling, and opportunities for people who are disproportionately low-income people of color."


The Justice Department sued the city of 100,000, 80 miles northeast of Los Angeles, in 2019 after an investigation by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department had found that Hesperia, with support from the sheriff’s department, enacted a "crime-free" program with the intent of addressing what one City Council member had called a “demographical problem” — Hesperia’s increasing Black and Latin population.

The program not only required property owners to evict tenants upon notice of alleged criminal activity by them, but it also encouraged landlords to evict entire families when only one household member engaged in the purported criminal activity and notified landlords to evict survivors of domestic violence. The city required property owners to screen potential tenants through the sheriff’s department, which would notify landlords whether the applicant had “violated” the rules of the program in the past. Hesperia made registration in the “crime-free” program mandatory for landlords and that imposed excessive fees, DOJ said. "The resolution of this matter by the city was based solely on a sound financial decision on behalf of the citizens of the city," said J. Pat Ferraris, an attorney representing Hesperia. "At no time has the city admitted liability in this matter, and the City continues to vehemently deny all allegations" by DOJ.

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