published Sunday, June 10th, 2012

Chattanooga Housing Authority ups ante in crime fight

OTHER CHANGES

The CHA board also approved a policy allowing it to evict a household that includes a sex offender who is subject to a lifetime registration requirement under a state sex offender registration program, unless otherwise provided by law.

Poll
Should tenants who commit crimes be evicted from public housing?

A yearlong effort to rid Chattanooga public housing of crime has led to an array of new get-tough measures that residents must adhere to or face eviction.

But rules adopted last month by the Chattanooga Housing Authority put residents under the severest scrutiny yet.

Committing a crime on CHA property long has been grounds for eviction. But now, for the first time, committing a crime off property also can get a resident kicked out.

CHA officials last month amended the agency's tenant policy to stipulate that any criminal or drug-related activity, including the manufacture or production of methamphetamine, on or off the premises by public housing residents, any member of their households or their guests, will lead to eviction.

"We wanted to cover anyone who comes into that house, whether the head of household knows them or not," said CHA Executive Director Betsy McCright. "If they are committing a crime, if they're using drugs, they're going to go."

The housing authority operates or manages about 15 housing sites occupied by about 2,900 low-income households.

Several residents said the housing authority's actions are too harsh.

"It's ridiculous," said Lisa Bailey, who lives in public housing with her disabled mother. "The first time your guest commits a crime, you should get a warning. A person shouldn't lose her house unless it's a repeated offense."

Gabrielle Holt said she mostly stays in the house to avoid contact with any violence or criminal activity, but she said she's against being held accountable for guests who may commit crimes off site.

"People bring trouble," said the 23-year-old mother of a 2-year-old daughter. "I don't want to get put out and I don't like hanging out with bad people, but if people are not here when they commit the crime, that isn't right to get put out for it."

McCright said the decision to evict residents even for crimes committed by guests came after housing officials moved to evict a head of household who had allowed her ex-husband to come into her home. The ex-husband invited a friend, who brought illegal drugs into the home.

CHA officials couldn't evict the tenant because their policy didn't have specific language regarding a guest who commits a crime, said McCright.

"We're basically just closing a little bit of a loophole that was in our existing lease. So if somebody commits a crime and we have a way to get them out, we're going to proceed to get them out," said McCright.

CHA announced its policy changes in May.

More than a year earlier, in March 2011, CHA began strongly enforcing its one-strike eviction policy for any crime, even a first offense. The push came after two shootings on public housing properties left four men wounded. As a result, the number of evictions doubled in 2011.

Eddie Holmes, CHA's board chairman, said the agency decided to include crime committed off property as a way to evict residents who harbor criminals.

More than half the crimes committed on public housing sites are perpetrated by people who don't live there, according to Felix Vess, CHA's chief of public safety.

Boyd Patterson, who heads the city's gang task force, said the new policy should help law-abiding public housing residents, as well as the authorities.

"A significant number of gang members either live in or hang out in public housing," said Patterson. "I cannot imagine how stressful it must be for the majority of public housing residents, who are good people."

He said fair and diligent investigation into how much the resident was involved in a guest's crime should greatly benefit the law-abiding tenants.

Joe Clark, former president of the Boynton Resident Association, the housing authority's largest elderly high-rise building, said residents should have had more notice of the policy changes and been allowed to comment on them before they were approved.

Housing officials said they submitted the proposed policy changes to all community managers and resident council presidents with CHA's proposed changes written in red. Residents had from April 16 to May 18 to review and submit any comments about the changes.

about Yolanda Putman...

Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...

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