ACLU Urges Congress to Prevent Unfair Eviction of Innocent Tenants, Domestic Violence Victims

June 18, 2002 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today urged support in Congress for legislation to protect innocent tenants – including victims of domestic violence – from being unfairly evicted under a misguided policy that revokes eligibility for public housing tenants because of the wrongdoing of others.

“Federal law lacks basic common sense in its approach to the problems of domestic violence and other criminal activity in America’s public housing,” said Rachel King, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Instead of taking steps to address the root of the problem itself, housing authorities simply go after the victims.”

Current law mandates the eviction of public housing tenants if a guest or family member engages in criminal activity, even if the activity occurs away from the tenant’s home. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) is the lead sponsor of an amendment to the Housing Affordability for America Act of 2002 (HR 3995) that would protect these innocent tenants. Rep. Lee’s amendment was scheduled for consideration today in the Housing and Community Opportunity Subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee.

The Lee Amendment would fix the zero-tolerance, one-strike eviction policy that now governs how public housing authorities respond to reports of criminal activity. Currently, an abused spouse who reports the abuse to the police is vulnerable to summary eviction as are the parents or grandparents of children or grandkids who use drugs or engage in other relatively minor criminal activity.

The ACLU and others have long opposed these eviction measures on constitutional, compassionate and practical grounds. Realistically, King said, the one-strike policy works counter to the goal of providing affordable and safe housing to the underprivileged in America. Tenants who fear eviction simply because they report the criminal activities of others will be much more likely to take matters into their own hands.

“Instead of providing a measure of hope, the system is provoking fear among people with little recourse to prevent its injustices,” King said. “Congress needs to change the law so that a woman who is being abused by her husband need not fear eviction simply because she calls for help.”

The ACLU’s letter on the amendment can be found at:

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