California bill would ban city “crime-free” housing policies

A photo illustration of Assemblymember Tina McKinnor (Getty)
A photo illustration of Assemblymember Tina McKinnor (Getty)

A new California bill seeks to ban cities from enacting so-called “crime-free” housing policies — local laws that can force landlords to evict tenants who are arrested or deny tenancy to people with prior convictions. 

“It’s systemic racism,” Assemblymember Tina McKinnor, the bill’s author, told the L.A. Times, which reported on the bill earlier this month. “It’s a way to exclude brown and Black people from living in their apartment buildings, living in their communities.” 

McKinnor, a Democrat who represents Inglewood, told the newspaper she was inspired by an earlier L.A. Times investigation which determined that at least 147 California jurisdictions had enacted or promoted such policies. The Times investigation also found that the cities frequently cited rising crime as a basis for passing the laws — even in cases where crime was actually stable or falling — and that the laws were more common in communities with growing Black and Latino populations. 

One council member in the Mojave Desert city of Hesperia, which had seen an influx of Black and Latino renters, even said during a meeting that the purpose of the city’s “crime-free housing” rules was “to correct a demographical [sic] problem with people that are committing crimes in this community.” 

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A HUD investigation found that under the city’s program, Black renters were almost four times more likely to be evicted compared to white renters, the Times reported, while the city and San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department also recently agreed to pay nearly $1 million in a settlement deal with Department of Justice related to civil rights violations stemming from the policies. 

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McKinnor’s bill, AB 1418, would ban cities from requiring landlords to use criminal background checks or evict tenants for alleged criminal behavior if the tenants had not been convicted of a felony, among other stipulations. It would not prevent landlords from screening for criminal histories on their own. In the Bay Area, Alameda County, which includes Oakland, has its own law prohibiting criminal background checks.

“Crime-free” housing policies have often been supported by police and some politicians who argue they act as a first defense against crime, drug and gang problems. Supporters of McKinnor’s bill say it’s intended to ban the most discriminatory policies. 

Trevor Bach