Rene Ray De La Cruz, VV Daily Press, December 3, 2019
The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging the City of Hesperia and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department discriminated against African American and Latino renters in violation of the Fair Housing Act.
The lawsuit, filed Monday, alleges the city, with substantial support from the Sheriff’s Department, enacted a rental ordinance that resulted in the wrongful eviction of numerous African American and Latino renters through the city’s Crime Free Rental Housing Program, the DOJ reported. The ordinance was in effect from Jan. 1, 2016 to July 18, 2017.
The DOJ also added that the ordinance was crafted with the intent of addressing what one city council member called a “demographical problem” — the city’s increasing African American and Latino population.
Rachel Molina, a spokeswoman for the City of Hesperia, said the information in the DOJ press release is “factually incorrect and grossly misleading.”
Molina added that one of the best things about Hesperia is its diversity. The City loves and embraces its diverse community. “The City will defend against the false allegations in this lawsuit.”
The suit was filed after a complaint and investigation by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, who said African-American renters were nearly four times as likely to be evicted as whites and that Latino tenants were 29% more likely to be evicted than whites.
The Crime Free Ordinance required landlords to incorporate a clause into leases that mandated the eviction of an entire household for a single instance of criminal activity by a resident or guest.
Pastor Sharon Green, the Executive Director of the Victor Valley Family Resource Center, said on Tuesday that she’s encouraged by the lawsuit, with hopes that it will prevent the city from discriminating against families and individuals.
In 2016, Green partnered with the ACLU to sue the City of Hesperia and the Sheriff’s Department for discriminatory housing practices for probationers.
U.S. District Court documents revealed terms of the settlement, which include $470,000 to the ACLU for attorney fees, $14,462 to the VVFRC and $369 to both Jonathan Martin and William Torres as reimbursement of fines imposed by the city, the Daily Press reported.
Sheriff’s Captain Nils Bentsen, who now serves as city manager, was the sponsor of the ordinance, a city staff report said.
The ordinance established restrictions on rental housing. Owners were required to register their rental properties and pay an annual fee. Owners were also required to submit the names of all applicants for tenancy to the Sheriff’s Department for a criminal background screening and to screen all then-current tenants for criminal history.
Rental properties were also subject to annual inspections for items relating to crime prevention, such as whether the landscaping had places for someone to hide.
Households in Hesperia are 44% Hispanic and 6% black. Renter households in the city are 48% Hispanic and 11% Black, according to the HUD document.
HUD found that between January and December 2016, at least 137 households comprised of 258 people lost their housing because of the ordinance. Also, during that time at least 75 applicants failed the tenant screening mandated by the ordinance.