“On March 28, 1996, President Clinton signed into law the Housing Opportunity Program Extension Act of 1996, which established the legal foundation for the "One Strike and You’re Out" Policy in public housing communities. This policy ensures that public housing residents who engage in illegal drug use or other criminal activities on or off public housing property face swift and certain eviction. The policy allows public housing authorities (PHAs) to conduct criminal background checks to screen housing applicants and offers clear guidelines concerning who can be denied admission to public housing... Now, an entire household can be evicted or denied housing if a housing authority has reasonably determined that any member or guest of a household is engaging in illegal drug use or criminal or other activities that interfere with other residents’ peaceful enjoyment of the public housing community.”
This opening paragraph, from an Office of Justice Programs report entitled Meeting the Challenge: Public Housing Authorities Respond to the "One Strike and You're Out" Initiative, seems to announce a community-friendly, positive safety measure to protect families in public housing from criminal activity. Unfortunately, over time, this “One Strike and You’re Out” policy created the (possibly) unintended dilemma for a family with a youth alleged to be delinquent: either try to find another place for the entire family to move or expel the youth to uncertain and unstable housing.
As defenders, since we usually learn of this situation after it has happened, it’s hard to know what we can do to help our client, who may now be couch surfing with relatives, or worse facing the prospect of DSS custody or detention. For starters, it may be unclear how the Housing Authority (HA) was informed. Sometimes it’s an internal investigation, but often law enforcement reveals to the HA youth who have been charged. There is no provision in the Juvenile Code which seems to allow this exchange of information, which would be a violation of confidential information. But if this violation exists, how does it impact the case, if the act is not directly related or located to the public housing units? Here are some thoughts:
If the youth is in secure custody, or is threatened with being placed in detention, remind the court that there is no provision to place a youth in detention under these circumstances.
If the alleged act had no direct relation to the HA property, consider requesting that the case be dismissed, or reduced in a manner that may impact the HA decision to evict.
Similarly, consider presenting information about the eviction at disposition in an effort to reduce the duration or nature of the court order.
If applicable, consider ways to directly advocate for your client in the eviction. If your client’s case will be dismissed per agreement, obtain your clients permission to advocate on their behalf in a letter or by talking to the property manager.
Finally, consider contacting Legal of Aid of North Carolina for assistance: https://legalaidnc.org/
For further reading, check out this article by Professors Wendy J. Kaplan and David Rossman.