The city of Hesperia has agreed to pay $1 million and end a housing policy aimed at evicting criminals that disproportionately drove Black and Latino renters from their homes, federal prosecutors said on Wednesday, Dec. 14, calling the settlement the first of its kind.
Hesperia, San Bernardino County and the Sheriff’s Department engaged in a pattern and practice of discrimination that violated the Fair Housing Act and the Civil Rights Act, according to a consent order.
“Hesperia’s ordinance was a blatantly racially discriminatory solution to a problem that didn’t exist,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said. “This meant evictions of entire families for conduct involving one tenant or even guests or estranged family members. It meant evictions of the survivors of domestic violence. It meant evictions in the absence of concrete and real evidence of criminal activity.”
The settlement challenging so-called “crime-free” housing ordinances and should send a message to an estimated 2,000 cities nationwide that have similar policies that are often discriminatory, Clarke said.
The city, county and Sheriff’s Department denied the allegations but agreed to settle the case, according to the court order. The city repealed the ordinance last month and the sheriff agreed to stop enforcing it.
Hesperia passed the ordinance in 2015 with, the consent order charged, the intent of keeping Black people and Latinos from living in the Mojave Desert city.
The ordinance required landlords to submit prospective tenants’ names to the sheriff for background checks in an effort to deny housing to anyone with a criminal record, prosecutors said. The sheriff, in turn, would notify landlords if tenants had been in trouble, regardless of whether there was an arrest or a conviction.
Hundreds of people were targeted, including people who called police for help and ended up being dislodged as a result, prosecutors said.
A Black woman who repeatedly called police about an abusive boyfriend was forced to move out after the sheriff threatened to file a misdemeanor complaint against the landlord, Clarke said. The woman and her children had to stay in a motel and ended up moving across the country after another rental application in Hesperia was denied.
A Latina who called the police because her boyfriend was having a mental breakdown was forced out temporarily because the boyfriend was arrested when deputies arrived at the home before paramedics.
The bulk of the settlement — $670,000 — will go to evicted tenants. Some of the money will fund marketing for fair housing, and the Sheriff’s Department will pay a $100,000 civil penalty, prosecutors said.
A lawyer representing Hesperia said the city settled solely for financial reasons.
“At no time has the city admitted liability in this matter, and the city continues to vehemently deny all allegations contained within the complaint,” Attorney J. Pat Ferraris said in a statement.
A sheriff’s spokesperson said the office can’t comment until the consent is signed by a judge.
This content was originally published here.