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ICLS celebrates Fair Housing Month, fights discrimination

This Fair Housing Month is the 56th anniversary of the passage of the Fair Housing Act – the landmark civil rights law signed into law in 1968 that made discrimination in housing transactions unlawful. The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing because of race, color national origin, religion, sex, including gender identity and sexual orientation, disability, and familial status. 

While residents have legal protections thanks to this act, action is still needed to ensure that justice is carried out and that we end housing discrimination for all. ICLS is committed to playing a role in that fight. 

One example of an inequity that can be seen across the U.S. is local municipalities’ “crime-free” housing policies. Such policies have wrongfully pushed out racial minorities in our own region, including in San Bernardino and Hesperia. 

Last year, ICLS’s Systemic Impact Litigation team settled a case against San Bernardino that required the city to repeal parts of its crime-free housing program, and the Department of Justice reached a settlement with the city of Hesperia that required their policy be repealed completely. 

Such measures go a long way in protecting historically marginalized communities’ right to fair housing. 

“So-called ‘crime-free’ ordinances are often fueled by racially discriminatory objectives, destabilize communities and promote modern-day racial segregation,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “These ordinances can uproot lives, force families into homelessness and result in loss of jobs, schooling, and opportunities for people who are disproportionately low-income people of color.

“‘Crime-free’ ordinances may also constitute a discriminatory solution in search of a problem and run afoul of the core goals underlying the Fair Housing Act. As this settlement makes clear, the Justice Department will continue to fight discriminatory and unlawful ‘crime-free’ ordinances across the country and work to ensure that everyone has fair and equal access to housing,” she said. 

Tenants impacted by such programs were unable to find rental housing because of their prior criminal history, notwithstanding significant progress in turning their lives around, earning college and professional degrees, and obtaining jobs, with many stating a feeling of being hounded by their past criminal history. 

In Hesperia, the program required all rental property owners to evict tenants upon notice by the sheriff’s department that the tenants had engaged in any alleged “criminal activity” on or near the property – regardless of whether those allegations resulted in an arrest, charge or conviction. In addition, the program encouraged housing providers to evict entire families when only one household member engaged in purported criminal activity and even notified landlords to evict survivors of domestic violence. It also required all landlords to screen potential tenants through the sheriff’s department, which would notify landlords whether the applicant had “violated” the rules of the program in the past.   

An analysis conducted by HUD showed that Black renters were almost four times more likely and Latino renters were 29 percent more likely to be evicted under the program than white renters. 

At a hearing about San Bernardino’s Crime-Free Rental Housing Program, professors and teachers spoke about the impact that evictions have had on their students’ ability to learn and thrive educationally, as well as the racial impact presented by the enforcement of the Crime-Free Rental Housing Program in areas of San Bernardino that were previously redlined. Further, community advocates decried San Bernardino for the family separation that has resulted because of the enforcement of the Crime-Free Rental Housing Program in San Bernardino, which restricts admission to housing and mandates eviction of persons with criminal history and family members who associate with them. 

“The repeal of the Crime-Free Housing policy will help ensure that such housing is fairly available to all residents, regardless of race or background,” ICLS Attorney Anthony Kim said when the settlement agreement was finalized.