A state of discrimination

Since the Great Recession, a series of “crime-free housing” policies have swept through California. These policies range from mandatory eviction of tenants with arrest records by landlords to the outright denial of rental applications to anyone with a criminal record of any kind.

Often, these laws hold landlords legally accountable for tenants’ activities, leading to an uptick in evictions. In some cases, tenants do not need to be convicted of a crime — an accusation is enough to warrant mandatory eviction.

According to a report by the Los Angeles Times, these policies disproportionately impact Black and Latinx renters.

In fact, the report also found that in many cases, such as in localities like Hemet and Hesperia, crime-free housing initiatives have taken hold where Black and Latinx populations rise, even as crime rates have leveled off, or are actively decreasing.

While proponents of these policies hold up isolated successes as proof-of-concept, the Times reports that statistical evidence paints a much different picture across the board.

For example, according to the Times, “Black tenants were almost four times as likely as white renters to be evicted under Hesperia’s law.”

This law has since lost some of its teeth in response to a U.S. Justice Department investigation and lawsuit, but plenty of others remain intact.

These policies are indicative of an all-too-familiar pattern. Local governments enact crime-free housing policies in response to complaints by residents — often predominantly White — who cite anecdotal evidence to support their claims that local crime is on the rise, even when statistics do not buoy those claims.

The one thing that has risen consistently in all of these communities, however, is the percentage of Black and Latinx residents.

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Dog whistle fever

Policies that tie rising minority populations to a higher crime rate, or a decline in the value of real estate, are not new. Neither are they simply relics of a pre-civil rights movement era.

Take the well-established practices of redlining — where lenders refuse to provide financing or insurance based on community demographics — or blockbusting — the practice of persuading a property owner to sell in response to a perceived change in neighborhood demographics.

These are persistent historical precedents for institutional support of discriminatory acts, and modern “crime-free housing” laws are only a systemic extension of practices like this.

By implicitly targeting specific demographics, localities that have enacted these laws are sending a clear message about who is — and is not — welcome in their community.

For California real estate agents, this matters not only on a human level, but on an industry level.

California’s diversity is well-documented — according to the U.S. Census, nearly 40% of the state’s population identifies as Hispanic or Latino, over 14% identify as Asian and almost 7% identify as Black or African American. Minority renters and would-be homebuyers make up a huge chunk of the California real estate market, and discriminatory policies only serve to depress the market in a state with an already low homeownership rate.

Related article:

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However, it isn’t all bad news — as in Hesperia, some of these laws have been amended, repealed or struck down over the last few years.

For example, in January of 2020, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing cracked down on mandatory evictions based on emergency calls, as well as policies that target would-be tenants with criminal records.

It’s a good start, but statewide mandates need to pressure more individual communities to address specific crime-free housing laws — to ensure their tenants and would-be residents are safe not only from crime, but from discrimination.