When the Riverside City Council ended its Crime Free Multi-Housing Program in September while simultaneously continuing to support multi-family housing operations and tenants through the Neighborhood Policing Centers Model, Neighborhood Watch Program, it was a great victory for activists who had long advocated for the program to be abolished.
The Crime Free Multi-Housing Program is a partnership with property managers, owners, landlords and residents. The Program, initiated in Arizona in 1992, is now international with nearly 2,000 cities in 48 U.S. States, 5 Canadian Provinces, England, Nigeria, and Puerto Rico, participating.
Although the stated goal of the initiative, as proffered by the Riverside City Council, is to reduce crime through community partnerships and proactive steps to improve the quality of life for everyone in the community, many believe – and the U.S. Department of Justice proved – that in some municipalities the program was being used instead to discriminate against Black and brown residents as was the case in the City of Hesperia.
Recently, Black Voice News spoke with fair housing advocate Pastor Sharon Green about the Crime Free Multi-Housing Program. She explained how under the auspices of the program, “if law enforcement came to your apartment two or or more times, they [could] evict you. They do not need a reason to come to your house either.”
Pastor Green directs the nonprofit Victor Valley Resource Center located in the city of Hesperia.
Pastor Sharon understands the consequences of the program all too well because she experienced targeting by deputies/police because her non profit, as she described it, “was in the wrong area.” The Victor Valley Resource Center provides transitional housing for those exiting incarceration and civic leaders where the transitional house is located, did not like that. In response, they used the Crime-Free Housing program to allegedly target her organization.
According to Pastor Sharon, the way the Crime- Free program is written, if you call for law enforcement assistance more than two times in a rental property, you can end up being evicted. Whether you’re convicted of anything or not, once you’ve committed a crime–even if your name was brought up as a suspect, for example–you can lose your housing.
“If you end up in rental property, they can force the landlord or the owners to evict you. If [for example] they say, ‘Oh, we suspect they committed a crime,’ whether you were there, whether you did it or not, they can still call the landlord and start that process.” Also, according to Pastor Sharon, under the Crime-Free Housing program the landlord risks getting fined if they don’t comply.
“They went into meetings, council meetings, calling us cockroaches, saying they need to get them out. . . get us out of their communities. That we were a detriment. They don’t need us there. They don’t want us there” Pastor Sharon declared adamantly, referring to actions of the Hesperia City Council.
On November 17 2015, in response to the influx of people of color, the City Council of Hesperia passed a new ordinance requiring registration and regulation of housing rental businesses.
It required all landlords to register their properties, pay an annual fee, or face fines, and/or a misdemeanor charge. Landlords were also required to submit all tenancy applicants’ names to HPD for criminal background screening, pay for the service, or be fined for non-compliance.
All rental properties within Hesperia were subjected to annual inspections purportedly seeking criminal evidence, at a cost of $100 to landlords. Landlords were also required to correct areas that could hide criminal activity or face a $400 fine.
Owners of rental property were also required to add a Hesperia approved “Crime-free Lease Addendum” to all residential leases. The Addendum provided if any occupant, guest, or other person under the occupant’s control had one instance of criminal activity on or near the property, this would result in a Three-Day Notice to Quit.
Infuriated over the injustice her organization was experiencing Pastor Sharon went to city officials. However, when she tried to talk to them they said that law enforcement did not want them in the community and that they were “gonna run them out.” The ACLU had to step in. All of this eventually led to a federal lawsuit and eventual settlement.
The city was sued for its actions in federal court and in December 2022, the U.S. Justice Department of Justice announced it had secured a landmark agreement to resolve a race and national origin discrimination lawsuit against the City of Hesperia and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.
The slurs noted by Pastor Sharon were actually spoken by Hesperia councilmembers. USDOJ observed them speaking openly at a hearing regarding the ordinance, of their intention to target people moving from Los Angeles, purportedly Black and Latino tenants.
The USDOJ quoted Hesperia’s former mayor pro tem, Bill Holland, as stating the purpose of the ordinance was to get each landlord “to rid his rental…of that blight” similar to “call[ing] an exterminator out to kill roaches, same difference,” Holland concluded.
Recently, California’s Governor Newsom signed AB 1418, legislation holding cities, counties, and any municipalities accountable that have these crime free programs in place as they are now illegal in the state of California.