The D.C. Housing Authority altered its policy last month to make it easier to terminate housing for residents receiving government subsidies under Section 8 housing assistance. The Housing Authority made its decision after months of dealing with problem residents, since the old housing code made it difficult to remove even criminals from their publicly-subsidized housing.
With over 70,000 names, including families with children, the elderly, and people with disabilities, on the waitlist for D.C. housing, the new policy lowers the criteria for removing delinquent tenants from these homes, freeing up space for law-abiding tenants to move in. The new policy, however, is overzealous in its approach to deciding who is removed from public housing.
Under the new policy, the Housing Authority can terminate Section 8 housing for even tenants charged with first-time misdemeanors. These cases often take the form of minor drug convictions. Entire families have lost their housing because a single family member was charged with marijuana possession. A conviction is not necessary for eviction.
These standards are excessive and neglect the needs of families who struggle to support themselves. Obviously, allowing felons, like one woman who could not be removed from her public housing even after she was charged with shooting a neighbor’s child, to occupy publically-subsidized housing must stop. But the Housing Authority must strike a balance between the relaxed policy of the past and the harsh new one.
While the Housing Authority offers an appeals process for tenants whose housing is terminated, it is inadequate and unfair. The appeals process is conducted internally by the Housing Authority, which employs a cheaper system than the courts. A family that is fighting for its right to housing deserves the fairest process our legal system can provide.
Additionally, the fact that marijuana possession is being used as grounds for housing termination means that black residents will be disproportionately affected. In a recent study, the American Civil Liberties Union found that despite near-equal usage rates, black Washingtonians are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana use. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 48 percent of public housing in D.C. is held by black individuals or families.
With its new policy, the D.C. Housing Authority has proven its commitment to fixing the city’s problematic Section 8 housing system, but, by lumping minor drug offenders in with the rest of the District’s “problem tenants,” it has gone too far. The D.C. Housing Authority has established order, what it lacks now is balance.