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

This is disgusting!!! You are saying That our black population are the majority of Faribaults criminals!! You don't know anything about our town and for you to insinuate you know our black community based off one woman, whom had the police called on her 86 times due to wreaking havoc on her neighbors, example deciding it was party time at 3 am, is a disgrace! How dare you talk such racism against them! I'm furious!!!!

Lucia porras

This ordinance has effected my family as well I am mixed with Mexican and American I totally agree that this should be removed as soon as possible considering that it has left us homeless and having a very difficult time trying to find new housing from me and my family who are trying to make our lives better I was born and raised in faribault and my children have been to I am completely against this ordinance seeing that the city thinks they can do what ever they want and not even think about what happens to the families that are effected by this and my family of 4 have fallen victims to this ordinance that faribault has put in place I would help in any way possible to get this removed

Jamar

Seriously? When will we as a people stop playing the victim? The cops just don't get called to a residence "numerous times" because everything is ok. Ms Jones and family needs to identify the behaviors that got the police called to their house and hopefully they'll learn and it won't happen again.

Anonymous

That family has two of her children one is in federal priaon and another in and out jail for known asaults drugs and other things. People should know all facts before they speak ijs.

Anonymous

This also targets victims of domestic violence. If a woman calls on a man that is abusing her and the police come after three times she is evicted from her rental. If she has children CPS is also notified and she is entered into a CHIPS petition as well. This gives the man more power over her in fear of losing her home and/or her children. He will often times abuse her more because he knows nothing will happen to him and he won’t face any repocussions of his actions. He also won’t have a record nor will he have an eviction on his record. The woman experiencing the abuse will have both making it harder for her to find a new place to live or to apply for certain jobs. She also has to go through a long lengthy battle to get out of a CHIPS petition.

This law makes protects abusers and makes it so women facing domestic violence have limited options, limited protection, and could experience homelessness when trying to protect themselves.

Lola in Wisconsin

If there is an ordinance banning anyone with a felony conviction from living in or even visiting housing units, the main question is where are people with a felony conviction supposed to live?

Anonymous

There are some major drawbacks from being a felon. Many are violent and had a life of crime. Would you want them in your neighborhood? There are too many neighborhoods that are ridden with crime. Landlords that have apartments in less desirable parts of town will rent to them, which is where they belong.

Irene

Good question. Like other who do their time where are they supposed to live once they are out? Apparently NIMBY!

Anonymous

Criminal activity seems to be a one way occurrence. Just a year or two ago, some high students held a very disrespectful gang themed dance! They seem to make their own trouble!

Judy D.

Why hasn't this made national news?

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