Paul Elias, AP, December 30, 2008
As more and more black renters began moving into this mostly white San Francisco Bay Area suburb a few years ago, neighbors started complaining about loud parties, mean pit bulls, blaring car radios, prostitution, drug dealing and muggings of schoolchildren.
In 2006, as the influx reached its peak, the police department formed a special crime-fighting unit to deal with the complaints, and authorities began cracking down on tenants in federally subsidized housing.
Now that police unit is the focus of lawsuits by black families who allege the city of 100,000 is orchestrating a campaign to drive them out.
“A lot of people are moving out here looking for a better place to live,” said Karen Coleman, a mother of three who came here five years ago from a blighted neighborhood in nearby Pittsburg. “We are trying to raise our kids like everyone else. But they don’t want us here.”
Across the country, similar tensions have simmered when federally subsidized renters escaped run-down housing projects and violent neighborhoods by moving to nicer communities in suburban Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles.
But the friction in Antioch is “hotter than elsewhere,” said U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development spokesman Larry Bush.
An increasing number of poor families receiving federal rental assistance have been moving here in recent years, partly because of the housing crisis.
A growing number of landlords were seeking a guaranteed source of revenue in a city hard-hit by foreclosures. They began offering their Antioch homes to low-income tenants in the HUD Section 8 housing program, which pays about two-thirds of every tenant’s rent.
Between 2000 and 2007, Antioch’s black population nearly doubled from 8,824 to 16,316. And the number of Antioch renters receiving federal subsidies climbed almost 50 percent between 2003 and 2007 to 1,582, the majority of them black.
Longtime homeowners complained that the new arrivals brought crime and other troubles. In 2006, violent crime in Antioch shot up about 19 percent from the year before, while property crime went down slightly.