How Crime-Free Housing Ordinances Discriminate Against People of Color

Solemn Black woman sitting on floor of apartment

When searching for a new home, many feel relief when they see a crime-free housing ordinance in their rental application. After all, these rules guarantee your neighbor isn’t up to no good, right? Unfortunately, crime-free housing ordinances actually have a sinister history bent on maintaining segregation between White people and People of Color. This discriminatory nature has persisted through the years — long past the “official” end to segregation. In fact, it has continued to ensure racial demographics remain as segregated as possible. 

The History of Crime-Free Housing 

During the Jim Crow era, “White-only” spaces like restaurants, neighborhoods, public parks, and more intentionally excluded Black people. Many justified this by spreading the myth that all Black people are more likely to commit crimes. Theoretically, segregation should have ended upon the signing of anti-discrimination legislation in the 60s. However, racism and discrimination did not suddenly disappear overnight. Prejudice informed subtler policies through the years that would prove to have a similar effect to blatant segregation.  

In 1992, the International Crime Free Association (ICFA), an organization founded and supported by the Mesa, Arizona Police Department, proposed the first crime-free housing ordinance to prevent crimes in rental properties. Under these ordinances, landlords should refuse to rent to applicants who have had any contact with the law. They needn’t be convicted either. Stops, questionings, arrests, and convictions all qualify. Additionally, landlords could evict any current tenant for having contact with criminal law enforcement. According to the ICFA website, approximately 2,000 cities have adopted crime-free housing ordinances. 

How Does Crime-Free Housing Affect Today’s Renters? 

Sixty years after the signing of the Fair Housing Act, the myth of the Black criminal persists. Prior to the legalization of marijuana, Black people were nearly four times as likely as White people to be arrested for marijuana possession, despite roughly equal use. This over-policing of Black communities means Black applicants for a rental property are significantly more likely to have encountered law enforcement. Even if a Black individual was innocent, landlords have a right under a crime-free housing ordinance to refuse to rent to them. Crime-free housing ordinances effectively disqualify Black individuals from rental opportunities and create insulated White communities, not unlike the Jim Crow-era. 

Attaining Justice for People of Color Nationwide 

Housing should be equally accessible to all, regardless of skin color, nationality, or ethnicity. Although discriminatory policies may have taken on a subtler angle, the Racial & Economic Justice attorneys of McCune Wright Arevalo, LLP, aren’t afraid to hold organizations accountable for these practices. Our team seeks to protect the rights of People of Color, LGBTQIA+ individuals, immigrants, exploited workers, and more.

If you feel you have lost out on rental opportunities due to a crime-free housing ordinance, contact us or call (909) 345-8110 today for a free and discreet consultation! 

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