LOS ANGELES, Ca. – The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) is suing the City of Hesperia and San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department for alleged discrimination against black and latino renters.
The DOJ has filed the lawsuit on the city and the sheriff’s department citing that a rental ordinance enforced by the two was found to discriminate against black and latino residents. DOJ representatives said that the treatment of renters is a violation of the Fair Housing Act which protects residents against discrimination based on race, national orgin, and other forms of unlawful discrimination. The lawsuit was filed on Monday, December 2, 2019, accuses the Sheriff’s Department of “substantial support” of a rental ordinance that resulted in the eviction of numerous African American and Latino renters and their families.
The lawsuit and evictions were a result of the “Crime Free Rental Housing” ordinance, which was enacted on January 1, 2016 and was amended shortly after on July 18, 2019. The ordinance, which the DOJ officials say impacts African American and Latino renters nearly four times as much as non-Hispanic white renters required that rental property owners evict tenants upon notice from the Sheriff’s Department that the tenants had engaged in alleged criminal activity on or near the property.
In addition the complaint stated that the Sheriff’s Department exercised “substantial discretion” in enforcement to target African American or Latino renters and minority areas of Hesperia. Despite the ordinance’s claim to target criminal activity, entire families; including children, were evicted for conduct involving one tenant. Those evicted also included domestic violence victims and those accused of criminal activity without evidence. Over 95 percent of the people evicted under the ordinance in 2016 had lived in the majority-minority Census blocks. HUD determined that reasonable cause existed to believe the city and county engaged in illegal discriminatory housing practices.
“Individuals and families have a right to live where they choose, regardless of their race or national origin,” said Anna María Farías, Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). “HUD applauds today’s action and will continue to work with the Justice Department to address policies and practices that violate this nation’s fair housing laws.”
City officials and others stated numerous times that the ordinance appeared to be an attempt to reverse “demographic” changed in the City of Hesperia. The DOJ said that the City of Hesperia officials expressed a desire for the ordinance to drive supposed newcomers “the hell out of our town.” The city enacted the ordinance despite civil rights-related objections to many of its provisions from various segments of the community.
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