HUD Announces "One Strike" Rules for Public Housing Tenants
On March 28, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) introduced guidelines to help public housing administrators screen and evict tenants involved in drug or other criminal activity (59 CrL 1047).
The provisions are set out in the new policy, "One Strike and You're Out." Although the eviction and screening procedures have been law since 1988, public housing authorities (PHAs) were not enforcing them because they were unclear about the legal ramifications and constitutionality of eviction and screening. The guidelines set out procedures for enforcement.
HUD will immediately start looking for enforcement of "One Strike" in their overall evaluation and grading of public housing systems under the Public Housing Management Assessment Program (PHMAP). PHAs that adopt the rules and demonstrate they are following the guidelines will increase their score and may be eligible for more funding and less oversight from the federal government.
President Clinton, introducing the "One Strike" guidelines, said hard-working, law-abiding people who live in public housing should not be fearful of gang members and drug dealers in their apartment buildings. "One Strike" sends the message that "if you mess up your community, you have to turn in your key; if you insist on abusing or intimidating or hurting other people you'll have to live somewhere else," he said.
"I know that for some, one strike and you're out sounds like hard ball. Well, it is. It is because it's morally wrong for criminals to use up homes that could make a big difference in the lives of decent families," Clinton said.
The HUD guidelines suggest that PHAs conduct extensive background checks on applicants and their family members and develop strict rules to find out about applicants' involvement in drug or criminal activity. PHAs are urged to clearly state a zero-tolerance policy in leases and phase in new leases over the course of the next year. The new leases offer the legal foundation for eviction of tenants who cause problems later.
The policy also sets out procedures for PHAs to follow when evicting a tenant for criminal or disruptive behavior. Because eviction is a civil matter, not a criminal one, it is argued that problem tenants would not have to be convicted of or charged with a crime to be thrown out of public housing. The guidelines set out parameters for making decisions about problem tenants and offer help for PHAs faced with dilemmas about tenants' family members or guests who are involved in problem behavior.
The guidelines also warn that PHA regulations must protect applicants' rights and be reviewed for possible violations of local laws. PHAs are urged to set up protections for tenants, including offering a hearing to tenants facing eviction.
Legislation is pending in the Senate to toughen public housing regulations to exclude current or former drug or alcohol users. Last October, the House passed (by a vote of 415-0) a similar bill allowing PHAs of elderly- and disabled-designated housing to develop policies excluding people who use drugs or use alcohol, or who formerly used drugs or alcohol (see "Bill to Exclude Current and Former Drug and Alcohol Users From Elderly and Disabled Public Housing Passes House," NewsBriefs, January 1996).
H.R. 117, the "Senior Citizen Housing and Safety and Economic Relief Act of 1995," allows PHAs to establish elderly-only and disabled-only housing, and to evict any tenants for drug-related or disruptive behavior. PHAs would be able to evaluate whether candidates for elderly public housing have a history of use of alcohol or controlled substances that "provides reasonable cause for the agency to believe that the occupancy by such individual may interfere with the health, safety, or right to peaceful enjoyment of the premises by other residents." S. 247, the "Senior Citizen Housing Safety Act," is pending in the Senate. That bill would allow PHAs to evict anyone living in elderly-designated public housing who is involved in three separate incidents of drug-related or disruptive behavior.
[For a copy of the HUD regulations, contact the NewsBriefs office. Statements by President Clinton and Henry Cisneros can be found at the White House Web site at http://www.whitehouse.gov/. Go to the White House archive and search for "public housing." These statements can also be obtained from the White House fax on demand service at 202-395-9088. H.R. 117 or S. 247 can be found at the Library of Congress Bills and Congressional Record Web Server at http://www.thomas.loc.gov. If you do not have access to the World Wide Web, contact the NewsBriefs office for a copy.