Minnesota City’s Ordinance Illegally Targets People of Color in Rental Housing

Faribault, Minnesota, is a small city about an hour’s drive from Minneapolis. It has a landmarked, historic downtown and a wool mill that’s been in operation since 1865. But in the 21st century, Faribault is changing.  

In 2000, Black people made up less than 3 percent of Faribault’s population. By 2016, Faribault was more than 9 percent Black. Faribault’s growing Somali community has been the source of much of this shift. By 2016, there were 10 times more people of Somali ancestry in Faribault than there had been in 2000. But non-immigrant Black Minnesotans are discovering Faribault — with its good employment opportunities and low cost of living — too.

Our client Thelma Jones is one of them. Thelma moved to Faribault 10 years ago because it seemed like a safe and peaceful environment to raise her family.  She worked hard as a home health aide and certified nursing assistant, and in Faribault, she was eventually able to move to a house big enough for her three teenage kids and the younger children she was raising. It also had a yard for birthday parties and barbecues.

Thelma and her daughter

But Thelma and her family got evicted from their home because of Faribault’s Rental Licensing Ordinance and its so-called Crime Free Housing Program, which we and the ACLU of Minnesota are challenging today in federal court. Harassing calls to the police from Thelma’s white neighbors had brought the police to her home many times, like when her kids were jumping on the trampoline or when a group of Black teenagers was standing in her yard.

One neighbor even told Thelma to her face that Thelma should “go back where she came from.” In response, the police labelled Thelma and her family “problem tenants.” They threatened Thelma’s landlord with criminal prosecution under the ordinance unless she kicked Thelma and her family out. In a matter of months, Thelma’s family lost their home.

So, what is this ordinance? As the demographics of Faribault were changing, the city council passed a measure to give police more power over tenants in rental housing, ostensibly to contain crime and control “loitering.” Except there had been no rise in crime. And loitering was just called standing on the sidewalk before it was people with Black skin doing it. The ordinance was a discriminatory solution to problems that did not exist.

Learn more about the case

And it’s no coincidence, given its discriminatory purpose, that the ordinance targets rental housing. Ninety percent of Faribault’s Black residents rent their homes, as compared to just 28 percentof white residents. Around the country, as people of color are increasingly moving to the suburbs, we’ve seen a spate of these ordinances targeting renters for extra policing and extra scrutiny. Renters, disproportionately people of color, are stereotyped as likely to commit crime.     

Faribault’s so-called “Crime-Free Housing Program” follows a model for policing rental housing created by the Arizona-based International Crime Free Association, which is used in hundreds of jurisdictions across the country. The program requires landlords to include language in every lease making any instance of “criminal activity,” defined very broadly, a justification for evicting the tenant. In Faribault, police can tell landlords to evict a household because they suspect someone in it engaged in even minor criminal activity, even if the person is not prosecuted and even if they are found not guilty in a criminal case. This gives police tremendous power over tenants’ lives.

The program also requires landlords to perform criminal records screening on potential tenants  and instructs landlords to refuse to rent to them on the basis of criminal convictions, even for minor crimes. Given the radical racial disparities in the criminal justice system, this kind of blanket policy also amounts to racial discrimination, in violation of the Fair Housing Act. Savannah, Georgia, had a similar program, and when we pointed out its illegality there, Savannah immediately suspended the program. We hope Faribault will do the same.

Local governments should embrace diversity as a sign and a source of strength — especially when new arrivals are doing the jobs that fuel the local economy. But they certainly can’t put up barriers to keep people of color out. Both the Constitution and the Fair Housing Act make Faribault’s ordinance illegal, and we’ll keep fighting until Thelma and her family have the same opportunity as everyone else to live in Faribault.

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Anonymous

I trust the newcomers write better in their second language than many natives do in their only language..

Anonymous

Maybe she and her family would not have been evicted, if the police were not called to the home 82 times in 5 years.

Anonymous

If only you truly new this family has son that lives with her has multiple felonies and involved in gangs this is not the model family you make your self yo be

Anonymous

I know her family personally. She used my dads phone number for many things including important accounts like the clinics and other things. Her son Mack is in a gang and has been for awhile. They’re not a good family at all. I’ve seen them outside swearing at people who walk past when they were going to Kwik trip.

Anonymous

Sounds like the only racism going on here is the ACLU's attempt to spin the facts.

Anonymous

Before it's deemed racial discrimination there should be more statistics gathered in regards to the race of those affected by this ordinance. Then there can be an educated decision made on how the ordinance effects all races in Faribault. With that being said, the 80+ times law enforcement has been called to the residence speaks for itself.

Anonymous

I'm a homeowner in town . Every family has their problems whether it be healthy later or financial and sometimes domestics occur because of this and sometimes the police are needed to intervene with older children who are out of control and won't listen to their parents. One of these situations occurred at my home while the police or at my home app on my request I had been asked whether I was a homeowner or renter? I looked at the officer and told him I own my home but why did it matter? After reading this article I Now understand why he was asking. He was profiling me and had I have been a renter he probably would have used the incident to contact my landlord. It seems to me the police in Faribault are abusing this law and using it because they get tired of having to respond to multiple incidences at one address. Crime Free Housing it's meant to protect the neighborhood from people who are dealing drugs who are stealing Etc not from good families that are having problems within their own home.

Anonymous

The comments are stupid lol! The homeowners of the house are mixed! It’s not racist many towns in mn have the same law. Many people in faribault have been evicted for the same reason Thelma has yet she cries racism because she’s black. She pulled the race card out to get money to help her son who’s in a gang and a convicted felon. There’s two sides to every story.

Faribault Resident

For all the comments I read here I have yet to see even one that is correct. This family KNEW the laws ( yes, for good or bad) about felons living in the home. The ACLU is NOT telling the whole story. This family had over 80 complaint calls made against them to the police. Loud music, domestic abuse, please feel free to go on line and look. This family is NOT innocent . Fairly charged? That is a wait and see. As far as the Somali Welcome Center adding their name to the list of complaints well, that got a HUGE chuckle out of a large amount of Faribault life long residents. This town has bent over backwards for the Somali's in this town. We didn't ask for it in any way shape or form but it is what it is and and are being FORCED to make the best of it. I, personally am thankful that my children are now all grown adults and no longer in the public school system. And that they longer living here. They all left for college and only come back to visit. As they put it " what's the point... this town is no longer the great place I grew up in". The racial tension at the public schools here is so thick some days as I have been told by my co-workers with younger children that you can cut it with a knife. Those with the means send their children either to private school, home school or out of town altogether. Their is an article in the local paper just this week about the decrease enrollment in the public schools. This town was once thriving and the place where you wanted to be. Now, this once thriving town has over 70% of it's kids on free lunch. I, like a lot of my co-workers will be leaving here as soon as retirement is in sight. As one city council member said .. we are going to flip like Detroit in a few years". Can you blame us for at least trying to keep a little of the life we once had?

Anonymous

Hey Thelma....you are a liar......and a race baiter. Your son is a thug. You all get what you deserve.

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