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The Hidden Tenant Impacts of Proposition 6

Submitted by News Desk on Fri, 09/26/2008 - 3:00pm
Source: 

Proposition 6 on the November ballot—characterized by proponents as a “comprehensive anti-gang and crime reduction measure”—is an ill-conceived statewide measure with hidden provisions that hurt California tenants.

Buried in the complex language of Prop 6 are provisions that take aim at tenants with Section 8 vouchers, as well as other provisions that target tenants who live at properties where the government undertakes anti-gang enforcement efforts.

Annual Background Checks on Subsidized Tenants
Among other new expenditures, Prop. 6 would establish a new “Safe Neighborhoods Compliance Enforcement Fund” and appropriate $10 million annually for this fund. In order to be eligible to receive money from this fund, local housing agencies would need to run annual criminal background checks on all Section 8 tenants.

Although the Legislative Analyst claims that this relates to “public housing,” the text of the measure says otherwise, requiring that agencies seeking these funds perform annual background checks on any tenants assisted by Section 8 vouchers. The voucher program subsidizes the rent of very low-income households renting from private landlords.

The decision to use scarce government resources to subject Section 8 tenants to annual background checks cannot be justified. Annual background checks would create a witch-hunt atmosphere, drain scarce public resources and do nothing to promote “safe neighborhoods.”

Tenants in the Section 8 program already must pass a criminal background check when they apply for the program. Once the tenancy begins, Section 8 tenants are subject to strict criminal activity eviction provisions. With respect to drug offenses in particular, the eviction provisions are extremely broad, providing that “any drug-related criminal activity on or near such premises, engaged in by a tenant of any unit, any member of the tenant's household, or any guest or other person under the tenant's control, shall be cause for termination of tenancy.”

To make matters worse, Prop 6 would provide only part of the funding necessary for local housing authorities to run the required annual background checks, leaving local housing authorities to pay the rest of the bill. This would be extremely costly for local housing authorities and would divert resources from other critical housing needs.

Government Evictions in Alleged Gang Cases
Prop 6 also allows the government to undertake evictions as part of anti-gang enforcement efforts in private property. Currently, the Penal Code provisions that authorize the government to declare property a nuisance based on alleged criminal conduct by a gang member also expressly provide that “[n]o order of eviction … may be entered” in such a case. Prop 6 removes the “no order of eviction” limitation, thereby authorizing the government to pursue evictions in gang-related nuisance cases.

What makes this particularly scary is the broad definition of nuisance under the referenced Penal Code section. Under Penal Code section 186.22a, “every building or place wherein or upon which criminal conduct by a gang member takes place” is defined as a nuisance. Therefore, once someone is labeled a gang member by the government, any criminal conduct—no matter how minor—that person engages in at a building could lead to eviction of residents of that building at the hands of an overzealous city attorney.

Current California law already empowers private property owners to evict any tenant who is “permitting the maintenance or commission of a nuisance upon the demised premises or using the premises for an unlawful purpose.” There is no reason to allow local governments, as part of already sweeping powers to prosecute gang activity, to step into the eviction business just because they allege that a gang member is committing a crime on private property.

Just Say “No” To Hidden Anti-Tenant Provisions
A broad coalition opposes Prop 6. The proposition contains a grab bag of unnecessary and punitive programs. The measure would cost hundreds of millions of dollars per year, diverting resources from other more pressing budget priorities.

Regardless of how one feels about stiffer criminal penalties and increased law enforcement funding, California voters are fed up with measures that claim to be about one issue but have hidden provisions with other significant impacts. Earlier this year, voters soundly rejected another deceptive measure (Prop 98) that claimed to be about one popular issue (eminent domain reform) but contained hidden provisions that would have banned rent control and other tenant protections.

Prop 6 suffers from a similar problem. Its stated purpose is to “Stop Gang, Gun and Street Crime.” Provisions that seek to deprive people of affordable housing have nothing to do with this objective.
California voters should just say no to Prop. 6.

Dean Preston is an attorney and Executive Director of Tenants Together, California’s Statewide Organization for Renters’ Rights. For more information about Tenants Together, visit www.tenantstogether.org.