2002-04-06 / Front Page

Selling Drugs? You’d Better Start Packing!

By Gary G. Toms

By Gary G. Toms

On March 25, the Supreme Court ruled that government agencies could now use aggressive policies to evict those who are selling drugs in public housing. The ruling affects tenants caught selling drugs and any relatives or guests that are living on the premises.

"Until now, the New York City Housing Authority has taken a "case by case" approach to enforcing the policy for its 181,000 units housing 425,000 tenants," said spokesman Howard Marder.

"When the individual facts warrant, we may evict the entire family, but sometimes we agree to exclude the offending member," he continued.

The ruling affects anyone who lives in public housing. Groups who argue on behalf of senior citizens state that it is the seniors who will be hurt most by the mandate.

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote that the government, as a landlord, can control activities of its tenants.

"It is not absurd that a local housing authority may sometimes evict a tenant who had no knowledge of drug-related activity," Rehnquist wrote.

The Supreme Court’s decision was a reversal of the ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in favor of California tenants, including a 63-year-old Pearlie Rucker, whose mentally disabled daughter was nabbed with cocaine three blocks from her apartment. Rucker and other family members were living in the apartment at the time.

"Any drug-related activity engaged in by the specified persons is grounds for termination, not just drug-related activity that the tenant knew, or should have known about," Rehnquist wrote.

Ed Williams, President of Everywhere and Now Public Housing Residents Organizing Nationally Together (ENPHRONT), a national organization that deals with public housing issues, was outraged by the Supreme Court ruling.

"The decision by the Supreme Court to uphold the "one strike" rule serves to deepen the chasm of inequity between people who are poor and everyone else. Because they receive federal housing assistance, and therefore the rules governing their tenancy can be legislated by Congress, public housing residents are more vulnerable to losing their homes through no fault of their own than anyone else," said Williams.

"The ruling permits public housing agencies to evict a tenant if the agency has evidence that someone in the tenant’s family is involved in drugs or other activities, even if the activity does not take place on property owned by the public housing agency. On who else but low-income people would Congress dare to impose such harsh and unfair rules? This ruling by the Supreme Court is nothing short of cynical when you consider that just a few months ago both of the Bush daughters were involved in activities such as providing false identification to purchase alcohol, and so on," continued Williams.

Williams believes that the ruling is not as clear-cut as it seems, and that there are many things to consider before evicting a person, or their entire family, from public housing.

"How would the average person know if drugs are an addiction in any given family? How many families would be on the street if having teenagers, who were up to no good, were grounds for anyone else to lose their home? This is lawmaking run amok in the name of being tough on drugs. Congress should re-examine the one strike policy in light of what we know about the severity of its consequences on innocent people," said the ENPHRONT president.

"If the President is of the United States is in agreement with this decision, then we the people should petition the courts to evict him and his family, given his daughter’s criminal involvement while living in public housing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (the White House)."

If you would like to obtain more information on ENPHRONT, you can write to them care of the Center for Community Change, 1000 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20007. The New York address is P.O. Box 900911, Far Rockaway, New York 11690-0911.

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