Despite the Feel-Good Name, This Practice Can Be Discriminatory and Dangerous
Discriminatory practices like crime-free housing ordinances have affected generations of minority renters across Minnesota and the nation. Here’s how this ugly practice came to be, what it looks like today, and how you can join the fight for equity across the housing industry.
What Are Crime-Free Housing Ordinances?
Crime-free housing ordinances, also known as nuisance property ordinances, are discriminatory regulations either encouraging or forcing landlords to evict or reject tenants who have frequent contact with law enforcement. These programs seek to mitigate crime in rental housing but more often disproportionately affect racial minorities and prop up segregation in the housing industry. These laws and programs punish tenants when they are the frequent target of calls to the police, often regardless of infraction or the purpose of the calls to the police.
The History of Crime-Free Housing Ordinances
Crime-free ordinances were first implemented by Arizona law enforcement in 1992. They quickly gained traction across the nation with current estimates projecting that 2,000 municipalities across 48 states engage in similar programs. While the goal of reducing crime is admirable, these ordinances are not entirely effective.
In reality, crime-free housing regulations often disproportionately punish minority renters. Thelma Jones, a Black woman from Faribault, Minnesota, is one such affected individual. Jones’ landlord was forced to evict her after police responded to her residence 82 times at the behest of her White neighbors. The authorities were summoned for everything from barbecues to children’s birthday parties - never because of any criminal activity. The unfortunate reality is that crime-free ordinances can provide law enforcement and landlords the means to remove families like Thelma Jones’ from their homes and communities simply due to their identity.
Victims of crime are negatively affected in similar ways. Lakisha Briggs of Norristown, Pennsylvania was removed from her home in 2016 after frequent calls to the police. Not only was Briggs not engaging in criminal activity, her calls were actually for protection from attacks by an abusive ex-boyfriend. In cases like Briggs’, crime-free ordinances are counterintuitive with severe consequences for some of the most vulnerable renters.
Minnesota’s Path Forward
While reducing crime is always a priority, crime-free housing ordinances are not the future. In fact, the Department of Justice has even found that, in many cases, these ordinances actually violate the Fair Housing Act. So, how do we advocate for renters, push for equity, and ensure a home for everyone?
Show your support for organizations speaking out on or taking legal action against the injustices of crime-free ordinances, including the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Institute for Justice. You can also share your thoughts with your elected representatives, and always report discrimination you may come across in the field. After all, it will take all of us to ensure housing is accessible for everyone.