After meeting with the mayor of Tampa, the civil rights coalition renews its call to end the city’s crime-free housing program

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor watches a protest near City Hall on June 3, 2020.Kimberly DeFalco

On Tuesday morning, representatives of a national coalition of legal civil rights groups joined in a virtual meeting with Mayor Jane Castor and a legal representative of his staff to discuss Tampa’s controversial crime-free multi-home program . The coalition claims that Castor defended the program at the meeting and now has renewed the call at the end of the program.

Last week a Tampa Bay Times Investigation found that since the program’s inception 8 years ago, the program has reported approximately 1,100 tenants for eviction — 90% of those tenants were black. In response, the coalition sent a letter to Castor requiring the end of the program. Castor initially defended the program she started when she was police chief, but on Saturday the announced reforms, which, according to the coalition, are not enough to solve the problem.

According to the coalition, Castor had asked that only the parties involved in sending the initial notice to join her in Tuesday’s appeal. During the meeting, the group said Castor claimed recent and past reforms to the program were sufficient and upheld their decision not to end it.

Creative Loafing Tampa Bay has contacted the mayor’s director of communications to see if he has a response to the claims made in the coalition letter, but has yet to receive an official response. This message will be updated when there is one.

The coalition wrote on behalf of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Hillsborough County Branch of the NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Greater Tampa Branch of the Florida ACLU, NYU School of Law Civil Rights Clinic and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law.

In the latest letter, which was sent out last night, the coalition wrote to Castor and city council to “renew our demand to immediately end Tampa’s crime-free multiple housing program.”

“As a result of our meeting, we want to recap some of the statements that you and the city attorney have made and reiterate our concerns, ”the letter added.

The letter explains that the safety of Tampa residents is of paramount importance to the coalition.

“We, like you, want all Tampa residents to be safe in their homes; what concerns us is an approach that expels people unfairly and disproportionately affects people of color, ”the letter read.

The letter explains that a significant portion of the makeup of the Hillsborough County branch of the NAACP is made up of Tampa tenants, who are subject to the city’s program. The coalition argues that these are the members whose rights and security they seek to protect.

“Just as we don’t want people to be victims of crime, neither do we want them to be victims of a flawed city-backed program,” the letter said.

The coalition then goes on to dissect the city attorney’s and Castor’s claims about the program and refute them from a coalition perspective. Here is a breakdown of the arguments put forward in the coalition letter:

Program changes in 2019 do not get to the root of the problem

“The gist of the city’s position is that the program underwent significant changes in 2019, so the concerns outlined in our September 16 letter are no longer relevant. More specifically, you explained that the lease addendum and the screening requirement have been eliminated. The program now focuses on three components: 1) training program; 2) site review and evaluation; and 3) community outreach to build “working relationships” between tenants and landlords. Unfortunately, these revisions do not alleviate our many concerns about the original program. “

Public documents request shows Tampa police engineered racist agenda

“Based on the documents provided in response to our July 21, 2021 public documents request, it is clear that the program as originally designed has a disparate impact on people of color, in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

You are not disputing this, but rather claim that the program has been revised to comply with federal law. But you offered no proof of these changes and instead provided vague claims that the program focuses on ‘training’, ‘community awareness’ and ‘working relationships’.

A request for all material related to the program

“To fully assess the program in its current form, we ask:

1) All materials related to the current training program including, but not limited to slideshows, handouts, etc. ;

2) All documents used during site inspections, including, but not limited to, documents, checklists, etc. ;

3) All documents relating to community awareness and “labor relations”

4) All documents relating to the monitoring of the program by the City.

Program reforms still leave it “essentially the same”

“You now seem to recognize that the program, as it was originally instituted, was gravely flawed and illegal. But, on the basis of the information received during the meeting, it appears that the program as initially instituted is materially the same. In fact, the program is essentially now on autopilot. That is, it still exists but it is not promoted or executed as solidly as it had been in the past, but the very substance of the program remains unchanged. Thus, the revisions to the program had little effect.

Problematic police training for owners

“As you know, the original training material provided to owners was very problematic even at one point. calling tenants “weeds” that had to be deleted. Although you have stated that the City no longer uses the original materials, it does not appear that the City has ever retrained property owners and managers who had received inappropriate training. Thus, the only training given to many property owners and managers was inappropriate. “

The amendment to the lease is still in force, despite the reform

“You indicated that the City no longer uses the amendment to the lease. However, this has little practical effect if the City has never asked property owners and managers to remove the addendum. Thus, the addendum, which was created by the City, remains an anchored part of the program, continues to affect tenants who have signed leases in the past, and is still included in leases with new tenants.

The crime-free program should instead be called the “African-American relocation program.”

“You said the police department is no longer involved in the deportation process. The city may no longer pay police officers to attend eviction hearings – a practice unique to Tampa that was invasive and problematic, even compared to other municipalities with “crime-free” programs – but police are still informing owners and owners of “criminal allegations activity ”by individual residents.

Undisputed statistics show that the badly named “Crime-Free” program could more correctly be called an “African-American relocation program,” whereby black residents are systematically forced out of Tampa city limits.

Tenants evicted for arrests before due process; violation of fair housing law

“We also continue to believe that the question of whether a person has committed a crime should be decided by judges and jury in criminal trials. The concept that a person who has never been tried or convicted of a particular crime can still be evicted from the housing because of “criminal activity” defies any notion of fairness and is against the law on fair housing.

Program suggests city has “little confidence” in criminal justice system

More than anything, this aspect of the program suggests that the City may have little faith in the criminal justice system. If the police truly believe that an individual has committed a crime, they have all of the City’s resources to prove it in criminal court. If they can’t, a property owner or manager shouldn’t be encouraged to punish the person with less evidence under a non-existent standard of proof. In short, people who have not been convicted of a crime should not be treated as criminals and should not be threatened with losing their homes without due process. “

The program has not been shown to reduce crime

When it comes to the anecdotal data related to the reduction in crime, we note that crime has declined throughout Tampa and even in the United States. Thus, attributing a reduction to a particular program with no verifiable link is premature. You mentioned an 80% drop in crime in a location. We ask your office to provide the data to support this claim, including for this location and any other presented as having a reduction in crime, crime statistics for at least five years prior to the reduction. Without this data, it is impossible to assess the impact of the program and whether it fully takes into account the improvements you have described.

On a related note, did these drops in crime rates at particular residential complexes occur before or after the city changed its program to comply with federal law? “

“The program could be ended with just one email”

“In view of all of the above, we ask the City, at a minimum, to suspend all currently operational aspects of the program until it has completed an evaluation of the program and the lingering effects of improper training in the city. start of the program. As you mentioned, this is a program, not a prescription. Therefore, it should be easier to close this program than to revoke an order. The program could be terminated with just one email.

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