As housing advocates lobby for stronger tenant protections in a housing market assiduously pricing out low-income renters, San Jose is considering an ordinance that would make it easier to evict people.
Councilman Johnny Khamis, in a proposal co-signed by Councilman Tam Nguyen and submitted to Wednesday’s Rules and Open Government Committee, pitched a Crime-Free Multi-Housing Program as a way to slash criminal activity by up to 60 percent.
Renter rights advocates, however, fear such a policy could lead to unjust, fast-tracked evictions.
“This will have a disproportionate impact on minority tenants,” said Sandy Perry, who leads the Silicon Valley Renters Coalition. “But it’s going to impact all tenants. It's bad for everyone. It's going to make more people homeless and it does nothing about criminal landlords.”
Under Khamis’ plan, property owners would be able to kick someone out based on an arrest, regardless of a conviction. The San Jose Police Department would supply landlords with the names of people arrested for crimes committed on or near the property.
Participating landlords would be able to dump renters for gang, guns, sex and drug crimes—already common grounds for eviction. But the ordinance would give property owners a more effective screening and enforcement tool, Khamis said in his memo. It would also improve the relationship between police and landlords, he added.
“Our low-income residents deserve to life in safe neighborhoods, which is the reason we are bringing forward this crime-fighting tool for San Jose,” Khamis wrote. “Residents living in marginalized neighborhoods are often afraid to call police because criminals leave the neighborhood for a short period of time and always return.”
Khamis bills himself as libertarian, but in the past year he has signed his name to some controversial policy proposals that expand government reach. In August, Khamis suggested that the city install license plate readers on its fleet of garbage trucks. Now, he wants to institutionalize tougher screening in a market that already gives landlords the upper hand.
“This feels like a police state type issue,” Perry said.
A concern among tenant advocates is that these apartment oversight programs can leave renters on the hook for crimes—or suspected crimes—by anyone in the household. Even if the tenant wasn’t involved, was a victim or if crime occurred somewhere off the property. An eviction on the record would also make it more difficult for tenants to find a new place to stay.
Those side-effects make the crime-free housing idea a risky proposition, opponents say, especially in a market that’s pushed the rental vacancy down to about 3 percent and the homeless population up to the fifth-largest in the nation.
A study on crime-free housing ordinances by the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law warned that nuisance policies like crime-free housing programs expose cities and landlords to legal liability, among other issues. The proscriptive 2013 report cites examples of domestic violence victims opting not to call the police when they needed help for fear of violating the lease agreement.
“These ordinances can reduce the supply of rental housing, displace crime victims and others who need to reach out to the police for help, chill reporting of crime to the police in the first place … and prevent persons with criminal records from finding stable housing,” the study cautioned.
Mesa, in Arizona, launched one of the first crime-free housing programs in 1992. Since then, more than 2,000 cities have adopted a similar ordinance. Eight Bay Area cities have enacted crime-free housing programs: Fremont, Union City, Hayward, Pleasanton, Dublin, San Leandro, Livermore and Richmond.
According to Khamis’ memo—which revives a controversial proposal from two years ago—cities that have implemented the program have seen a 40 percent drop in calls for service and a 60 percent drop in police reports.
While the programs make for good marketing for landlords, they also have the ability marginalize people who have made mistakes by incentivizing landlords to turn away people with criminal records. Ex-offenders are not considered a protected class, so landlords can already turn them away based on their history.
"[T]he Crime-Free Multi-Housing Program runs contrary to our state and local policy of reintegrating formerly incarcerated people into the community," the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley wrote to city leaders. "Barring these individuals with past convictions from housing could lead to more and more families unable to find housing in Silicon Valley and could disproportionately affect people with disabilities and other groups protected by state and federal civil rights laws. We are further concerned that, without community input and careful oversight, such a policy will target specific racial and economic groups based on unfounded stereotypes about crime, increasing racial segregation and inequality in our community."
In the letter signed by several other community groups, Law Foundation attorneys Nadia Aziz and Kyra Kazantis said the ordinance could endanger victims of domestic violence and put more families on the streets.
Meanwhile, San Jose’s elected leaders are also exploring the idea of creating a “just cause” protection to prevent landlords from wrongly evicting a tenant. Existing policy allows landlords to evict someone for no reason if they give a 60-day notice.
City staff also plans to bring a draft rent control ordinance back to the council by early next year.
- San Jose will join Santa Clara County in creating urban agriculture zones, which give landowners a tax break if they allow community farms on their property.
- After winning a public records appeal, San Jose Inside editor Josh Koehn read through more of SJPD Assistant Chief Eddie Garcia’s emails. Turned out, Garcia didn’t have much to hide except a habit of using his work email account for personal use. Read the follow-up to that saga here.
- The city needs a SJPD employee to fill an unplanned vacancy on the Police and Fire Department Retirement Plan Board.
WHAT: Rules and Open Government Committee meets
WHEN: 2pm Wednesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260