Crime-Free Housing Policies in California Associated with Significant Increases in Executed Evictions

A new report from the RAND Corporation, “An Evaluation of Crime-Free Housing Policies,” indicates that crime-free housing policies (CFHPs) adopted by municipalities in California may not reduce crime as intended and are instead linked to statistically significant increases in executed (or enforced) evictions. CFHPs aim to reduce crime by, e.g., screening out potential tenants with histories of criminal justice involvement and empowering landlords to evict tenants accused of criminal activity. In 2019, one in five California municipalities had adopted CFHPs, exposing an estimated 4.5 million renters to these policies. Among the municipalities examined in the paper, those with CFHPs were more likely to have a greater proportion of Black residents and lower-income residents, suggesting that low-income renters of color may be disproportionately impacted by CFHP-related increases in enforced evictions. As of this month, California has become the first state to ban local governments from imposing CFHPs, and the authors of the report advocate for more states to follow suit.

The researchers evaluated the association between CFHPs and both crime rates and enforced evictions in California municipalities. Public records were used to identify municipalities with CFHPs. Information on crime rates was pulled from arrest records obtained from the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program. Data on writs of execution were obtained from local sheriffs’ offices. Additionally, the researchers interviewed 10 organizations that assist individuals who have been negatively impacted by CFHPs to understand how CFHPs are enforced and how they impact renters.

The researchers found that municipalities in which CFHPs were enacted between 2010 and 2019 did not have higher historic crime rates than municipalities without CFHPs, nor were crime rates in municipalities with CFHPs significantly impacted by the policies once enacted. Using UCR data on total crime rates, violent assault rates, and burglary rates, the researchers compared 34 CFHP municipalities with 222 municipalities without CFHPs. They found that municipalities that eventually adopted CFHPs between 2010 and 2019 and municipalities that did not adopt CFHPs had similar crime rates between 2000 and 2010, signaling that CFHPs were not adopted in response to disproportionate changes in crime among municipalities. Comparing crime data from 2009 and 2019 in municipalities with and without CHFPs, the authors found no statistically significant difference in overall mean crime rates or the rate for any particular crime.

To examine the association between CHFPs and evictions, the researchers gathered data on evictions executed (or enforced) between 2017 and 2021 in three municipalities – Fremont, Hayward, and Riverside – and San Diego County. These locations were the only CFHP areas for which the addresses of certified CFHP properties were available in 2019. Using a spatial first differences (SFD) model to estimate the impact of CFHPs on executed evictions within neighborhood blocks, the authors found that neighborhood blocks with CFHP units had 21.2% more executed evictions than neighborhood blocks without CFHP units. This finding is particularly troubling, given that neighborhood blocks containing CFHP-covered properties were found to have a significantly larger proportion of people of color and lower-income households than those not covered by CFHPs; thus, CFHP-related increases in evictions likely had a substantial impact on renters of color and lower-income renters. The researchers warn that municipalities with CHFPs are at risk of violating the federal “Fair Housing Act” if a disproportionate number of renters of a protected class (i.e., one defined by race or ethnicity) are denied housing or evicted due to CFHPs.

Additionally, the researchers interviewed staff from 10 organizations that assist individuals who have been negatively impacted by CFHPs to understand how these policies are enforced and the negative outcomes associated with CFHP evictions. The interviews revealed that individuals who are evicted from CFHPs often do not understand the reason for the underlying crime violation and therefore face difficulties challenging the eviction. Although California’s “Tenant Protection Act” requires landlords to notify tenants of the exact lease violation giving rise to the eviction, many exceptions exist that could apply to CFHP units, including cases in which the tenant lived in the rental unit for less than a year or in which housing is designated for low-income individuals. The authors note that CFHPs allow landlords to exercise a high degree of subjectivity in determining what constitutes criminal activity and therefore a lease violation, leaving tenants ill-equipped to defend themselves against eviction without adequate information about the underlying violation. The authors recommend that states with CFHPs enact legislation requiring that all tenants are adequately informed of the specific cause of their CFHP violation, without exceptions.

Interviewees also discussed how evictions from CFHPs create increased barriers to finding housing and lead to worsened housing conditions, such as poorer quality housing, overcrowding, and even homelessness. The interviews revealed that renters with prior criminal involvement are harmed most by CFHPs because many landlords and property managers will automatically screen out individuals with past infractions, including minor infractions such as public urination or marijuana possession, which can show up on a background check for years.

Given that CFHPs appear to have no significant impact on crime reduction, significantly increase evictions, and disproportionately impact renters of color and low-income renters in the locations studied, the authors recommend that municipalities reconsider maintaining or adopting CFHPs. If municipalities choose to maintain CFHPs, the authors call for state legislation that ensures that tenants are informed of the exact violation giving rise to an eviction, as well as the creation of a right to legal representation to ensure more equitable outcomes. 

Read the report at: