|Wanda Coleman clutches her aching knee while watching television with her granddaughter, Jasmine Hodge, in her public housing APARTMENT IN NEW YORK. Coleman, who wears a mask for severe asthma, is about to be evicted, partly for her son's criminal activity, due to "One Strike and You're Out" policies and will have to go to a homeless shelter.|
Wanda Coleman sits in the New York City public housing apartment where she's lived for 25 years, surrounded by empty rooms, bare walls and suitcases lined up by the front door.
Any day now, she and her teen daughter will be evicted and have no other option than to go to a homeless shelter — partly because of her son's criminal case.
"Why should I be accountable for something that my son did that had nothing to do with my apartment?" asked 48-year-old Coleman, sighing into a surgeon's mask she wears for severe asthma.
Federal public housing guidelines allow for a whole family to be evicted for one family member's alleged criminal activity — even if it occurred elsewhere and no one in the household knew about it. The so-called "One Strike and You're Out" policies aimed at keeping public housing safe have long been criticized by housing advocates as unfair. The federal government three years ago urged changes to related policies because stable housing is seen as one of the best ways to prevent recidivism among ex-offenders.
But so far, housing authorities across the country have begun only limited programs to ease restrictions.
A New York City Housing Authority pilot program started last year will let up to 150 people leaving prison be admitted to public housing to reunite with their families with supportive services. Similar programs have also started in Los Angeles and New Orleans.
But Coleman, tainted by her son's 2009 drug possession case, will not be able to reapply to public housing for three years.
Under federal guidelines set up in the 1990s, residents can be evicted regardless of whether they have been arrested or convicted of crimes. Evidence used in tenancy hearings simply has to meet the lower threshold of civil case requirements, not criminal ones. And defendants are not guaranteed representation by an attorney.
New York City, the nation's largest public housing authority, filed 838 such cases last year, according to public records obtained by legal aid lawyers. It could be years before the eviction cases are resolved.
In 2009, Tyrone Coleman, was arrested for possession of crack cocaine while he lived with his mother. Her attorneys say he was merely in the wrong place at the wrong time — arrested at the home of a friend where drugs were found in another room — but that initiated an eviction case even before he pleaded guilty to avoid a trial.
NYCHA says Wanda Coleman was evicted party because of her son's criminal activity — he was arrested a second time before the eviction ruling was reached, though that case was dismissed — and "chronic nonpayment" of rent that could not be ignored.
Coleman and her lawyers said she paid what she owed but she ultimately had no success appealing her hearing officer's ruling. Her son was arrested a third time while she appealed, but Coleman said he wasn't living with her by then.
Housing authority officials say the whole-family eviction policy is in place for the safety of all its residents. Different policies, like the new re-entry program, "apply to different resident groups," spokeswoman Joan Lebow said.
"The overarching points are we have numerous policies aimed at preserving tenancy and at the same time we are committed to broader community safety as a whole," she said.
Housing advocates say the whole-family guidelines can have dire consequences, breaking up families, keeping them apart and forcing some into homelessness.
2 When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn.
29 Or else how can one enter into a strong man's house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house.