By Tierney Sneed, CNN
The US Justice Department on Wednesday filed what it is describing as a first-of-its-kind settlement in a racial discrimination case challenging a so-called “crime-free housing ordinance.”
The proposed consent decree was filed Wednesday in a lawsuit the Justice Department brought in 2019 against the central California city of Hesperia, alleging that the city’s ordinance violated the Fair Housing Act’s prohibitions on racial discrimination in housing access.
Hesperia continues to deny the allegations.
According to DOJ’s court filings, the 2015 ordinance instructed landlords to evict tenants accused of criminal conduct, even if those allegations have not resulted in an arrest or a conviction.
“As our complaint makes clear, Hesperia’s ordinance was a blatantly racially discriminatory solution to a problem that didn’t exist,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, who leads the DOJ Civil Rights division, said on a press call Wednesday.
She noted under the program, Black renters were almost four times more likely to be evicted than White renters and Latino renters were 29% more likely to be evicted.
She said that some 2,000 jurisdictions across 48 states have enacted similar policies and that the new settlement sent a signal to other communities that they’d be held accountable if their housing policies violated anti-discrimination law.
“This landmark agreement is historic,” Clarke said. “It marks the Justice Department’s first settlement in a case challenge a crime-free ordinance and results in the full repeal of the program and nearly $1 million in monetary commitment.”
Last month, the city repealed the ordinance, which was previously amended in 2017 to make the program voluntary. According to the Justice Department, Hesperia and its co-defendants — the county of San Bernardino and the San Bernardino Sheriffs Department — have agreed to pay a $950,000 settlement.
It will compensate people who were harmed under the policy and will cover anti-discrimination training and other initiatives.
A lawyer for Hesperia said that the city’s move to resolve the case “was based solely on a sound financial decision on behalf of the citizens of the City.”
“At no time has the City admitted liability in this matter, and the City continues to vehemently deny all allegations contained within the complaint filed by the Department of Justice,” the lawyer, J. Pat Ferraris told CNN in an email.
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