The Tampa Police Department works with landlords to evict tenants through a program that discriminates against tenants of color, in violation of federal law, according to a demand letter sent on Thursday by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the ACLU and its affiliates, the NAACP, and the NYU School of Law Civil Rights Clinic.
Through Tampa’s so-called Crime-Free Multi-Housing Program, local police train landlords to conduct unnecessary and overly broad criminal-history screenings of prospective tenants, share information about tenants from a police database, and pressure landlords to evict tenants under lease addendums authorizing eviction of those implicated in alleged criminal conduct in any way—either directly, through a family member or guest, or even as a victim—even if the alleged activity took place off of the premises, all without due process.
According to recent reporting published Tuesday by the Tampa Bay Times, nearly 90% of the three hundred families and individuals evicted under the Crime-Free Multi-Housing program are Black. The civil rights groups demand that the unlawful program be repealed.
“The City of Tampa should immediately repeal the crime-free housing program to ensure compliance with federal law,” said Haley Adams, legal fellow with the Fair Housing and Community Development Project with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The lease addendum and the screening process devised and executed under the program have created a significant disparate impact for residents of color in Tampa. These residents are more vulnerable to eviction and face limited available housing options.”
In response to the Tampa Bay Times article, Mayor Jane Castor defended the program and discounted the serious harm inflicted on communities of color even though officers train landlords to conduct unnecessary and overly broad criminal history screening of prospective tenants.
There is no evidence that programs like Tampa’s reduce crime or make communities safer. However, there is proof that the programs further entrench the racial disparities that define our country’s criminal system by incorporating those same disparities into the apartment rental process.
Because of racialized policing, Tampa residents of color are more likely to have a previous arrest or conviction on their record. Tampa’s program has a disparate adverse impact on tenants of color in violation of the Fair Housing Act. Crime-free programs create additional barriers for prospective tenants of color seeking housing. They have no place in cities that purport to be committed to the promise of equal access to housing for all. Tampa should immediately end the Crime-Free Program in its entirety.
Read the letter here.
About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice for all, particularly in the areas of voting rights, criminal justice, fair housing and community development, economic justice, educational opportunities, and hate crimes. For more information, please visit https://lawyerscommittee.org.