Prince James Story
In front of Riverside City Hall is a marble wall with a quote from Benjamin Franklin: “Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom; and no such thing as public liberty, without freedom of Speech.”
This is where community leaders from local organizations met last week to voice their disdain for crime-free housing policies.
“The crime-free housing project doesn’t care about how much you changed your life. They don’t care how many awards you got, policies you’ve changed, or how many lives you saved,” said Terrance Stewart, community organizer for Alliances For Safety and Justice.
Stewart shared some of his story, the struggle of finding housing as a formerly incarcerated person, and its trickle-down effect on his wife and kids.
“I’m trying to [make sure] my family is safe. If safety is something that is denied to me [then] it’s denied to my family,” said Stewart. “My wife never commited a crime, my child, never committed a crime.”
In April, California Attorney General Rob Bonta sent an email warning local jurisdictions against “crime-free” housing policies that may be discriminatory.
“California’s housing crisis has been worsened by policies that further marginalize Black and Brown residents under the auspices of seeking ‘crime-free’ neighborhoods,” said Assemblymember Tina McKinnor (D-Inglewood) in a press release.
McKinnor is the primary author of AB 1418 that would restrict “crime-free” housing policies that worsen the housing crisis.
“Every Californian wants to live in a safe neighborhood, yet for too many years, ‘crime-free’ housing policies have not reduced crime, increased housing availability, or increased housing affordability,” said McKinnor.
Some crime-free housing policies allow landlords to evict tenants if they or one of their guests allegedly commit a crime on the property.
Some lease addendums included police service calls in their “nuisance behavior” policies.
Crime-free housing policies also contribute to the rise in homelessness in California, disproportionately affecting Black people, an overly represented demographic amongst the unhoused population.
According to the 2022 Point-In-Time report, Black people comprise 5% of the state population but comprise 26.6% of the unhoused population.
“I sat in the five-year planning [meetings], the Point in Time Count, the California Continuums of Care (COC) meetings—I was everywhere trying to advocate to get rid of this program,” said Toya Vick, Housing & Criminal Justice Advocate for community organization, Starting Over. “[They] talk about helping the homeless, you’re not helping the homeless, you are making them homeless.”
Sharon Green, also known as Pastor Green, sued the City of Hesperia in 2016 after being harassed about her nonprofit organization, Victor Valley Family Resource Center (VVFRC), which provides housing for formerly incarcerated people and transitional housing for those at-risk of being unhoused.
The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of Green and six of her clients after city officials implemented new codes that would disallow the housing of one or more people on probation in the same building.
In March 2017, the city repealed its group home ordinance, and in July, they revised the rental home ordinance.
Two years later, both sides came to an agreement, and the city agreed to pay the plaintiff’s legal fees and reimburse them for any fines they were given.
“Crime-free does not make anything crime-free. [This] is another [dog] whistle blown to say we’re getting you out of our community because you don’t belong here,” said Green.
In 2019 The United States Department of Justice also filed a lawsuit against the City of Hesperia. The lawsuit alleged that the City and Sheriff’s Department’s crime-free housing policies discriminated against Black and Latinx individuals and communities in Hesperia in violation of the Fair Housing Act and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Those policies required the owners of these rental properties to submit the names of all adult tenants for background checks and required owners to do their criminal background checks on each tenant.
It also required owners to enact a “crime-free” lease addendum that said if any of their tenants or “other person under the [occupant’s] control” were involved in any form of criminal activity on or near the property, it would trigger the three-day notice to quit.
Even if you were never convicted of a crime, you could still be served this notice, and everyone in that occupancy would be evicted.
Owners who failed to evict their tenants were given a $500 fine.
City officials claimed that the ordinance was put in place to combat an increase in crime.
The complaint included some disparaging comments from former Mayor Eric Schmidt and other city councilmembers, who were mainly upset about people from Los Angeles County moving to Hesperia.
Councilmember Russ Blewett said, “those kinds of people” the ordinance would target were “no addition and of no value to this community, period.”
He continued, “I want their butt kicked out of this community as fast as I can possibly humanly get it done.”
Former Mayor Schmidt said, “The people that aggravate us aren’t from here,” and “ They come from a tainted history.”
A Los Angeles Times report from 2020 found that since 1990, 85% of crime-free housing ordinances were implemented in cities that saw an increase in Black tenants.
And 75% of cities implemented similar ordinances after there was an increase in the Latinx population.
The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development analysis found that Black renters were almost four times more likely than white renters to be evicted under these policies. Latinx renters were 29% more likely to be evicted.
In 2022, as reported by Black Voice News, HUD and the City of Hesperia agreed to end “crime-free” housing policies.
The city will also have to pay $950,000 in repair to remedy the effects of the “crime-free” and “nuisance” housing programs.
“So-called ‘crime-free’ ordinances are often fueled by racially discriminatory objectives, destabilize communities and promote modern-day racial segregation,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in a press release.
“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.”
Community leaders will continue to voice their opinions against crime-free housing policies. On Aug. 15, they will meet again to urge the Riverside City Council to end these policies.