HESPERIA – The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced Wednesday, a $1 million settlement agreement with Hesperia and the San Bernardino County Sheriff for its ‘crime free’ housing policy that resulted in discrimination against Black and Latino residents.
The US Department Housing and Urban Development (HUD) investigated Hesperia’s ‘crime free’ housing policy which required all rental property owners to evict tenants upon notice by the Sheriff’s Department that the tenants had engaged in any alleged “criminal activity” on or near the property — regardless of whether those allegations resulted in an arrest, charge, or conviction.
The DOJ cites several examples of how this policy negatively impacted residents.
“One Black family was torn apart after a mother’s call to the police for help got them kicked out of their home and placed on the violators list, making it impossible to find another rental in Hesperia. The parents moved away and made the impossible decision to leave their teenage daughter behind to finish high school,” states the report.
Another example in the report says a Black woman living in Hesperia called the police repeatedly to come to her home because she did not feel safe with her boyfriend. The Sheriff’s Department notified her landlord about the numerous domestic disturbance calls and threatened the landlord with a misdemeanor.
“The landlord then forced the woman and her children out of their home. With nowhere to go, the family moved into a motel and attempted to rent another home in Hesperia, but the applications were repeatedly denied. Unable to rent another home for her family in Hesperia, she was forced to uproot her life, leave a house full of furniture behind and move across the country,” says the report.
The ‘crime free’ program also encouraged housing providers to evict entire families when only one household member engaged in purported criminal activity and even notified landlords to evict survivors of domestic violence.
The report goes on to say that landlords had to screen potential tenants through the Sheriff’s Department, which would notify landlords whether the applicant had “violated” the rules of the program in the past. Hesperia also later passed an ordinance relating to business licenses for rental housing properties that made registration in the “crime-free” program mandatory and imposed excessive fees.
The settlement requires the complete end of the “crime-free” rental housing program.
“The right to fair housing is fundamental and should not be infringed,” said U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada for the Central District of California. “This important settlement with Hesperia prevents the so-called ‘crime-free’ program from devastating individuals and families with the emotional upheaval and financial hardship that accompanies evictions that occur with little notice. Today’s agreement and consent order will bring real change to Hesperia and beyond.”
United States’ Lawsuit
DOJ’s lawsuit, filed in 2019 based on an investigation by HUD, alleged that “Hesperia, with substantial support from the Sheriff’s Department, enacted a ‘crime-free’ program with the intent of addressing what one city councilmember called a ‘demographical problem’ – Hesperia’s increasing Black and Latinx population.”
The department’s complaint relied in part on HUD’s analysis which showed that Black renters were almost four times more likely, and Latinx renters 29% more likely, to be evicted under the program than white renters.
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As part of the settlement agreement, Hesperia has repealed its ‘crime-free’ ordinance, modified the rental housing business license ordinance, and reduced the fees associated with rental housing business licenses.
The Sheriff’s Department also has agreed to stop enforcement of Hesperia’s ‘crime-free’ program.
Under the proposed consent order, which still must be approved, Hesperia and the Sheriff’s Department will spend $950,000 and commit to remedy the effects of the ‘crime-free’ and business license programs, including:
- a settlement fund of $670,000 to compensate individuals harmed by the program;
- the payment of $100,000 in civil penalties;
- funding of $95,000 for affirmative marketing to promote fair housing in Hesperia;
- funding of $85,000 for partnerships with community-based organizations;
They are also required to provide notifications to property managers, landlords and owners of the changes to the ordinances and fee schedule.
“Discriminatory housing policies based on race and national origin, including those sanctioned and implemented by local governments, have no place in our society,” said HUD Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Demetria L. McCain. “This agreement sends a strong message that HUD and DOJ will continue to work together to vigorously enforce our nation’s fair housing laws.”
Individuals who believe they were harmed by Hesperia’s “crime-free” program may be entitled to compensation under the settlement fund and should contact the Justice Department at [email protected] or 1-833-223-1571.