We should celebrate the goal of expanding affordable housing opportunities across the U.S. Not only should there be expanded opportunities for affordable housing, but this housing should also be low in crime. Tenants want to know their apartment buildings and housing communities are safe. Yet, in California, safe housing is at risk because of a recent appellate court decision that limits or prohibits access to criminal history information. We have discussed before how a recent and unfortunate appellate decision in California is slowing down or preventing criminal background checks for employment and tenancy (here and here), much to the detriment to public safety in the Golden State
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) publishes “case studies based on federal, state and local strategies that increase affordable housing opportunities, apply sustainable features and practices, and increase access to public transportation.” One of the most recent case studies featured by HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research is in Santa Monica, California. Here, the 64-unit Arroyo, has “two parallel wings connected at both ends by bridges on each floor. A courtyard is centered between the two wings” which provide affordable housing in two- and three-bedroom apartments. There is also a unit for the property manager.
The management of the Arroyo, the Community Corporation of Santa Monica, likely wants to promote a safe living environment because, in October 2021, it advertised for a part-time resident manager. Among other things, an applicant had to undergo a “successful completion of a credit check and criminal background check.” A similar check was required for a bookkeeper position.
The ability to conduct a background check is critical to protecting Californians, and people across the U.S. We know that, for example, when a Seattle landlord was prohibited from conducting criminal background checks on prospective tenants:
- Calls to 911 from the building more than doubled, fire alarms are set off randomly during the night, employees have been assaulted, residents have sold drugs from their units, there was a stabbing, and the hallways are littered with feces, trash, and used needles;
- Longtime residents moved out;
- The number of evictions increased substantially (up from 1.48 to 3.96 per month – an increase of 168%)
- Employee turnover hit 400% and employees had to work in teams because they are afraid to work alone;
- The landlord had to adopt additional security measures to protect residents of the property, including installing controlled access systems, limiting resident access to their floors, and hiring armed security guards.
Without access to criminal history information, it’s possible that more criminal activity an occur in apartment buildings in California and beyond.
Eric J. Ellman is Senior Vice President for Public Policy and Legal Affairs at the Consumer Data Industry Association (CDIA) in Washington, DC. He also served for eight months as Interim President and CEO of the Association. More