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Residents settle housing element suit with city of San Bernardino

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SAN BERNARDINO – The city of San Bernardino will repeal parts of its “Crime-Free Housing Program,” as well as update its Housing Element plan, after settling a lawsuit filed in February by three residents.

The plaintiffs – represented by Inland Counties Legal Services and the Public Interest Law Project – sued to challenge the Crime-Free Rental Housing Program as an unlawful impediment to housing families in need of rental housing. The suit, Gracia, et al. v. City of San Bernardino, et al., also addressed the city’s emergency shelter ordinance, its failure to meet the 2021 deadline to adopt its Sixth Cycle Housing Element Update, and its failure to update density bonuses for affordable housing. The California Attorney General’s Office released more information,,  on the housing element portion of the settlement agreement.  

“This settlement agreement is a major victory for the residents of San Bernardino,” Inland Counties Legal Services attorney Anthony Kim said. “San Bernardino has been in desperate need of new affordable housing for many years, and Housing Element law is designed to make building affordable housing more attractive to both city planners and housing developers alike.”

“Additionally, 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,” Kim said.

The settlement agreement commits San Bernardino to: following a timeline to adopt its Sixth Cycle Housing Element; bringing its local density bonus and emergency shelter ordinances into compliance with state law; and repealing and removing of the most harmful provisions of the Crime-Free Rental Housing Program that have prevented persons involved in the criminal legal system and their families from being able to find rental housing in San Bernardino.
Specifically, by October 4, 2023, San Bernardino will discontinue implementation and enforcement of, and repeal the following provisions of the Crime-Free Rental Housing Program:

  • Provision requiring the mandatory use of, or recommended use of, a crime-free addendum to rental leases; 
  • Voluntary certification process, including mandating the use of a crime-free addendum and universal background checks by San Bernardino property owners, landlords, and managers; and
  • Provisions related to complaint-based inspections, enforcement alternatives, fees, fines, public nuisance, and penalties associated with the Crime-Free Rental Housing Program.

“For people who have been involved with the criminal legal system, it can be extremely difficult to start over again, and San Bernardino’s Crime-Free Multi Housing Program was another impediment to that process of starting over. San Bernardino needed to make major changes to its Crime-Free Ordinance, and we are pleased that they have committed to do so. It is important to remove administrative barriers on those who have paid their debt to society and seek to return home to live their lives as part of their community,” Public Interest Law Project Attorney Ugochi Anaebere-Nicholson said.

Tenants impacted by these programs have been 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.

At a recent hearing about San Bernardino seeking to include the Crime-Free Rental Housing Program in its Sixth Cycle Housing Element Update, 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.

And while such policies may be shocking for residents to learn about, they are not entirely rare across the country, including in California. A similar settlement was reached in a lawsuit against the city of Hesperia at the end of 2022.

With the city now addressing both the Crime-Free Housing Policy and its Housing Element, the hope is that more residents will get to maintain their housing in San Bernardino.

“California remains in the midst of a housing crisis, and many people are feeling the squeeze of not being able to rent or own a home due to being priced out. With this settlement and the city of San Bernardino coming into compliance with Housing Element law, San Bernardino will enable the conditions for creation of more affordable housing that will allow residents to stay in the city they love,” Kim said.