L.A. Tenants Challenge One-Strike

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There has been a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles contesting the constitutionality of the One Strike clause. President Bill Clinton signed the Housing Opportunities Extension Act March 28, 1996. It mandated that all federally-subsidized housing enforce a zero tolerance on criminal activity. This means that there does not have to be a conviction in order to start the proceedings for eviction. It also means that public housing authorities now must enforce tougher screening criteria that will ensure that new move-ins to public housing have no criminal background.

All public housing residents are subject to the “One Strike and You’re Out” clause that is part of all new leases. Residents who continue to occupy public housing as well as new move-ins are all required to abide by the new ruling.

In Los Angeles, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit on Nov. 21, 1997, on behalf of three residents of Holiday Venice Properties, a 256-unit, HUD-subsidized complex in Venice, Calif. The residents – all women and current leaseholders – received an addendum to the lease that they refused to sign. The addendum included One Strike provisions.

According to Los Angeles ACLU attorney Rocio Cordoba, Alliance Housing Management, the agent that manages the complex, sent the three women a memo on September 25, 1997, threatening eviction if the new lease was not signed. Phyllis Des Verney, a tenant at Holiday Venice for six years, has a 13-year-old daughter also on her lease; Pamela Anderson, a tenant for 20 years, has a 6-year-old granddaughter living with her; and Bonnie Holmes, a tenant for eight years, has a 10-year-old daughter that lives with her; they responded to the notice via ACLU attorneys.

On Nov. 3, Alliance sent another memo to the trio threatening to file for eviction Dec. 1 if the agreement was not signed and returned to their management office.

There have always been provisions in the public housing lease that held residents responsible for the actions of their family members as well as their guests. The stipulation has been that if the criminal activity occurred on CHA property or within a certain area near the property, residents could be evicted.

Cordoba said the three women objected to the part in the lease that holds the leaseholder responsible and subject to eviction if a member of their household or their guests commit a crime within three blocks of the property in which they live. The women support drug-crime free housing but object to being held responsible for people not in their household who are not under their control.

Anderson works as a counselor with teenagers at a neighborhood community center. Des Verney is a long-time community activist. She is a former building manager of Holiday Venice. The three women are the only three residents who did not sign the lease addendum.

In a recent telephone interview, Cordoba said there have been some new developments in the case since the lawsuit . The management company has sent the three women a letter stating that they will no longer be required to sign the addendum.

The ACLU legal staff is in the process of deciding the next step. Since Alliance Housing Management no longer requires the three women to sign the agreement, a decision has to be made what, if any, further legal action needs to be done.

The residential lease agreement that is now used by CHA has a One Strike clause. Section 7(m) describes the One Strike criminal activity that can result in lease termination. A conviction is not needed and it only takes one single incident to start the eviction process. Residents of CHA have no rights for a grievance hearing for criminal activity.

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