A Roswell program that aims to keep apartment buildings safe is in conflict with federal fair housing laws, local justice groups said. AJC FILE PHOTO
Photo: JEAN SHIFRIN
Photo: JEAN SHIFRIN

ACLU asks Roswell to change crime-free housing program

A Roswell program that aims to keep apartment buildings safe is in conflict with federal fair housing laws, local justice groups said.

Kosha Tucker, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, said the city’s Crime Free Housing Program discriminates against minorities by requiring apartments to reject applicants who have criminal histories. Minorities are disproportionately arrested and prosecuted, she said, and are therefore rejected from housing more often.

The ACLU, as well as the Georgia Justice Project and Legal Aid Atlanta, wrote to Roswell Wednesday asking them to remove provisions that require apartments that participate in the program to reject anyone convicted of a violent felony, any non-violent felony less than 20 years old, two or more non-violent felonies over any period or anyone with active warrants, among other requirements.

Wednesday’s letter follows an April letter asking for similar changes to the program. Tucker said she had not heard anything from the city since July, despite requests to meet to talk about the issue.

“If people don’t have an opportunity after paying their debt to society to reintegrate, the chances of them being a productive, law-abiding citizen are very low,” she said.

Julie Brechbill, a spokesperson for Roswell, said the city attorney and the police chief will work with the ACLU to address the concerns. Roswell’s program began in 2009, and offers an evaluation of apartment complexes and a survey of crime prevention techniques. It requires an addendum to the lease that says criminal activity will not be tolerated.

Gwinnett County had a similar program that began in 2012, Cpl. Jay Brewer said, but changed it last summer to ensure that it complied with fair housing laws. That program used to require a similar lease addendum prohibiting criminal activity and a similar checklist that prohibited renting to people with felony convictions in the past 15 years, among other requirements.

Additionally, Brewer said, the county’s police department used to provide monthly lists of arrest and eviction reports to participating complexes. All of that has stopped.

Brewer said the county’s Crime Free Multi-Housing program has contact with about 60 apartment buildings in unincorporated Gwinnett. He said many were disappointed when they stopped getting reports from the department, but that the program persists with seminars about recognizing gang activity and checks of lighting and other changes complexes can make to reduce crime.

“It just forces us to really build a stronger relationship with them,” Brewer said.

Brewer said he had also received a letter from the ACLU in April, but that the department had already made the changes that were being requested. Savannah had a similar program as well, but both Brewer and Tucker said that city suspended it.

Tucker said she has concerns about Roswell’s program for a number of reasons, including that it can deny someone housing for having an arrest warrant even without a conviction.

“If folks in Georgia are experiencing this as they apply for housing, we want to know,” she said.

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