Bay Area Suburb Accused of Harassing Black Renters

Paul Elias, AP, July 16, 2008

Civil rights groups alleged in a federal lawsuit Wednesday that Antioch police have created a special unit to harass the rising number of black renters there who receive federal housing assistant.

The lawsuit originally was filed in San Francisco federal court in May by five renters, and was expanded Wednesday to seek class-action status for all past and present black recipients of federal vouchers in the East Bay suburb.

City officials are accused of creating a special police unit called the Community Action Team to run the new renters out of town by pressuring landlords and housing authority officials to evict black tenants receiving vouchers. The lawsuit also accused Antioch police of illegally searching tenants’ homes without search warrants.

Antioch officials released an unsigned statement Wednesday denying the allegations and defending the special police unit, which it said was created in July 2006 “in response to neighborhood demands for help in dealing with growing crime rates and persistent neighborhood problems.”

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Antioch, which is about 37 miles east of San Francisco, has been among the Bay Area communities hardest hit by the housing crisis, with home prices plummeting and foreclosures soaring.

Civil rights lawyers representing the tenants alleged in the lawsuit that more homeowners and speculators in Antioch are choosing to rent their houses to recipients of federal housing vouchers to help cover their mortgage payments.

In 2003, 1,049 families in Antioch received the vouchers, and last year that number swelled to 1,582, according to statistics cited in the lawsuit. A little more than half the voucher recipients are black and the city’s black population has grown to roughly 15 percent of the city’s 101,000 residents, the lawsuit said.

“The city has reacted with alarm and hostility to the newcomers, choosing to scapegoat them as the cause of economic downturn because they allegedly bring blight and crime into the community,” the ACLU alleged in the lawsuit.

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