Posted on January 14, 2024

California Has Banned ‘Crime-Free’ Housing. Other States Should Too.

Max Griswold, Los Angeles Times, January 11, 2024

Landlords across the country have been empowered to act as a kind of police force in the name of crime prevention for decades. How? Through local “nuisance property” laws and “crime-free housing” programs that require them to evict tenants for vaguely defined “criminal activities.”

As of Jan. 1, California became the first state in the nation to ban so-called crime-free housing programs. More states should follow suit.

Such laws target low-income and minority renters for eviction and violate their civil rights. That’s bad enough. But they also fail to reduce crime.

Cities across the country have been implementing these policies for about 30 years, building on the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, which stepped up evictions in federally subsidized housing. By 2019, about 2,000 American cities had a crime-free housing program, and 37 of the 40 largest U.S. cities had a nuisance property ordinance.


The policies tend to be selectively enforced, with low-income, multifamily properties bearing the brunt. This has led the Department of Justice to take action against cities for violations of the Fair Housing Act and other federal laws. {snip}

What is the point of these harmful policies if they aren’t reducing crime? Public officials have suggested their real goal is segregation.

A Hesperia official acknowledged that the purpose of the city’s crime-free housing program was to remove what he described as “those kind of people” and “improve our demographic.” The mayor of Bedford, Ohio, said the city’s nuisance property ordinance was about taking “pride in middle-class values” and curtailing “urban immigration.” The analysis I led found that cities with crime-free housing programs had larger Black populations and that the affected apartments were on lower-income blocks with larger Black and Latino populations.

HUD has issued guidance to cities on how these policies may violate the Fair Housing Act by disproportionately evicting women, victims of crime and people with disabilities. But more needs to be done.