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A Racist Housing Law Ends In Hesperia

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Photo by Kuzma via Shutterstock
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The U.S. Department of Justice entered an agreement with the high desert city of Hesperia in San Bernardino County to end a racist housing law and pay out nearly $1 million dollars in compensation.

The so-called “Crime Free” Rental Housing Program started in 2016 and required landlords to carry out criminal background checks of all adult tenants. It allowed landlords to evict tenants and their families based on alleged, or very minor crimes - even any interaction with law enforcement.

In 2019, the U.S. Department of Justice sued the city of Hesperia, San Bernardino County and the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, alleging the policy illegally targeted Black and Latino renters.

"These 'crime free' programs often amplify the stark, documented racial disparities across our criminal legal system," said Kristen Clarke, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

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Clarke said there are approximately 2000 communities across the country with some form of a "crime-free" ordinance.

"Generally, these programs do not promote public safety," Clarke said. "Rather, they have sometimes been enacted in response to growing racial diversity in communities."

Such was the case in Hesperia, the DOJ argued, where one city councilmember stated that the purpose of the policy was to "correct a demographical problem" in the majority-white city.

The DOJ has identified 15 people illegally and negatively impacted by the policy, including several cases when female tenants and their children were evicted after calling the police while in fear for their safety during a domestic violence situation.

The settlement repeals the policy and results in nearly $1 million dollars to be paid out including $670,000 to impacted individuals.

People who believe they were harmed by Hesperia’s “crime-free” program should contact the Justice Department at Hesperia.Investigation@usdoj.gov.

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