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Oct. 20 2009 - 4:15 pm | 166 views | 0 recommendations | 4 comments

One strike and you’re out: public housing residents and the one-strike policy

Eugene Bailey

Eugene Bailey leaves Cook County jail after his release Monday. Photo by Jason Wambsgans of the Tribune.

There’s been a lot of talk today over Eugene Bailey, a Roseland teen charged and later exonerated in the beating and death of Derrion Albert.

Bailey and his mom, Ava Grayer, were served with an “intent to terminate” notice from the Chicago Housing Authority, letting them know that Chicago Housing Authority was planning to evict them from their Section 8 apartment over the charges.

Many people were outraged. A family evicted just for someone being charged? What about due process? And why should the mother be evicted for her son’s behavior?

It’s important to note that the the notice said CHA intendedto terminate the family’s lease – not that they were being evicted.

But the policy is not a surprise to me. It’s called “one strike,” and it’s no surprise to public housing residents either. Say the words “one strike,” and you’re bound to see heads shake, hear sighs and tongues click with disdain.

The policy originated from part of Clinton’s 1996 State of the Union address, in which he stated, “And I challenge local housing authorities and tenant associations: Criminal gang members and drug dealers are destroying the lives of decent tenants. From now on, the rule for residents who commit crimes and peddle drugs should be one strike and you’re out.”

Basically it means this: If you have a government-subsidized lease, whether in public housing or Section 8, you first have to pass a background check and meet stringent standards to get your lease in the first place.

And then, if you or anyone connected with you commits a crime, especially on the property, your lease will be in jeopardy.

That means your kids, whether they are on your lease or not, grown-up or minors, your guests, or anyone “under your control.” It means on the premises, nearby or even off the premises. Someone connect to you gets in trouble, and you do too.

One strike.png

C.F.R. 966.4, the one-strike policy. Image from the Invisible Institute

I’ve heard a lot of stories over the past year about one strike. Natalie Saffold, former LAC president of LeClaire Courts, told me of a mother and her six children who were evicted because her oldest son who was not a minor and not on her lease got into a fight with another young man while she was at the doctor’s office.

Resident leaders are often the ones most against the policy. They’re not against kicking out problem tenants. They just sympathize with mothers who no longer control their grown or teenage children, with girlfriends who don’t
know what their boyfriend does when he leaves,  and with sisters, brothers or cousins who have family they love, but can’t always trust.

Last Christmas, my brother-in-law, who’s a cop and a firefighter in Detroit, asked what I was writing about. We
started talking about public housing. He told me that he deals with a lot of Section 8 families, and he sympathized with them.

The people that succeed, he told me, are the people who move away and cut off every family tie they have. They just start over. He admired their strength, but said he understood that most people couldn’t do that.

Eugene Bailey’s family will be able to stay in their home. But for many, it doesn’t work out that way.

Jamie Kalven from the Invisible Institute did some amazing coverage of one strike a few years back. He found that over a year and nine months, 717 one-strike evictions were filed. Of those, 46 percent of those families were either evicted or left before the eviction was processed. In additional 37 percent were allowed to stay, but agreed to keep the
offender from coming to their home.

And because an eviction is a civil proceeding, not a criminal one, you don’t need the same quality of evidence to process an eviction in a civil court. That means that criminal charges against a person can be dismissed, and their
eviction can still go forward – a very strange form of due process.

I also found out that HUD tracks one-strike convictions and uses the information to evaluate public housing authorities like CHA. The more one-strikes, the better. The evaluation process determines how well the
authority is rated and how much money they get from the feds.

I asked CHA how many one-strike evictions they’ve processed over the last year. I was told I had to submit a freedom of information act request. I did, and I’ll let you know what I find out.

The controversy over one strike is this: no one wants criminals in public housing. Not the taxpayers and not the people who live there. But how do we best deal with it without evicting innocent families?

What do you think? Should families be held responsible for what a child or guest does on or off the premises? Does this policy just evict families or does it hold public housing residents to the high standards we need to keep it safe?


4 Total Comments
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    Mike d

    Again Great. I actually just commented on one of your previous posts saying residents in public housing should be held more accountable then I stumbled upon this post. Ive never heard of the one strike policy but I think its absolutely great. In noway should people receiving free housing should feel they can do whatever they want, if they want to engage in criminal activity their public housing rights should defiantly be revoked. It might seem harsh but I cant see how anyone can argue accountability.

  2. collapse expand
    Megan Cottrell

    Hi Mike – I just read your previous comment, and I was about to post “you should really read this…” but you found it yourself :)
    I agree that accountability is important. It’s important that people living in public housing don’t have to live with people who are causing trouble. My only concern is that it’s used too widely. There are many cases where someone’s grown child, who didn’t live with them and who was not visiting them, committed a criminal offense blocks away from the public housing site, and the family was evicted. That’s some tough accountability, especially when children are grown and a parent doesn’t have any more control over what they do.

  3. collapse expand

    I actually think this is the beginning to a solution of sorts, at least if it can actually be carried out effectively (from the Invisible Institute article): “In 263 cases (37%), the family was allowed to stay on the condition that it exclude the offending party—often a child or grandchild of the leaseholder–from the family home.”

  4. collapse expand
    anthony bozeman

    If people don’t like it then leave people need to know the taxpayers is all so paying for there stay in public housing. The one-stike rule should be enforced and maybe people will not take there stay in public housing for granted more and more people in public housing is taking the attitude of hear no and see no evil.

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    About Me

    I'm a journalist living in Chicago writing about poverty and public housing. I don't come from the streets - I grew up on a farm. But I'm passionate about urban issues and getting to know people who are completely different from me. I'm quirky, funny and friendly.

    I have this idea about journalism - that it should be approachable and less "newsy." I want my stories to make you laugh, cry and draw you in to neighborhoods and situations you don't deal with every day. I hate the broadcaster voice. I hate TV news. I hate the inverted pyramid. I love surprise. I love humor. I love people and telling their stories.

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