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Parts of "One Strike" Housing Policy Struck Down


July-August 1998

In San Francisco on June 19, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer issued a preliminary injunction against part of the "One Strike and You're Out" public housing policy, which allows authorities to evict tenants based on the suspected drug use of their friends or relatives (Pearlie Rucker et al. v. Harold Davis et al., No. C98-00781 CRB, ND CAl.) (Ben Chamy, "Eviction Drug Ruse Shot Down by Judge," Oakland Tribune, June 24, 1998; Frank Bruni, "A Battleground Without Winners in the War on Drug Abuse," New York Times, June 28, 1998, p. A12).

The "One Strike" Policy was enacted as part of the Housing Opportunity Extension Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-120; 110 Stat. 834). The policy allows public housing authorities (PHAs) to evict or refuse to house people whose friends or relatives are suspected of using drugs, even if the suspect was not arrested in the tenant's home, the charges were dropped, or the suspect was found innocent ("Entitlements of Tenants to Occupancy," 24 CFR 247.3). In the first six months after the policy was enacted, 3,847 people nationwide were evicted from public housing, 84% percent more than the number evicted in the six months prior to the law ("One Strike: Meeting the Challenge -- Public Housing Authorities Respond to the `One Strike and You're Out' Initiative," U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Public and Indian Housing, September 1997).

Breyer's injunction came in a case brought by the Eviction Defense Center, which sued the Oakland Housing Authority (OHA) on behalf of four Oakland public housing residents who were in danger of losing their homes under the federal "One Strike and You're Out" housing policy (see "Innocent Elderly Tenants Evicted From Public Housing For Others' Drug Violations," NewsBriefs, March-April 1998). The four plaintiffs -- Herman Walker, Barbara Hill, Pearlie Rucker, and Willie Lee -- are all senior citizens who were threatened with eviction when police found their houseguests in possession of drugs. Police never found drugs in the apartments of Rucker, Lee or Hill, but their housing status was threatened.

Anne Omura of the Eviction Defense Center told NewsBriefs that 75-year-old Herman Walker was threatened with eviction even after he fired his caretaker upon learning that police had found crack cocaine pipes in his apartment which she had allegedly hidden there.

Randy Hall from the Oakland City Attorney's Office, which normally handles legal affairs for the OHA, told NewsBriefs, "`One-Strike and You're Out' is a political soundbite." He said that the OHA's decisions are based on the interests of the majority of public housing residents, pointing out that because "this is housing of last resort," neighbors have nowhere to go when they feel threatened by drug use and the "certain element," such as prostitutes, that accompanies it. He pointed out that residents who are caught with drugs are often given warnings, and are served with eviction notices only when they or the minors who live with them ignore the warnings.

"The policy on its face appears irrational," Breyer wrote, "since the tenant has not engaged in any such activity or knowingly allowed such activity to occur." He let other portions of the One Strike policy stand, such as the section which calls for eviction if drug use takes place within the tenant's household, and another which denies housing to tenants based on their personal use of an illicit substance. The Department of Housing and Urban Development and the OHA have appealed the preliminary injunction to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Anne Omura, Eviction Defense Center, 1611 Telegraph Ave., Suite 726, Oakland, CA 94612, Tel: (510) 452-4541, Fax: (510) 452-4875.

Oakland Housing Authority - Executive Offices, 1619 Harrison Street, Oakland, CA 94612, Tel: (510) 874-1661.