Written by BRIAN MELLEY-Associated Press
(AP) — A Southern California city agreed Wednesday to pay $1 million and end a discriminatory housing program aimed at evicting criminals in what federal prosecutors said was the first settlement of its kind in the country.
The city of Hesperia, San Bernardino County and its sheriff’s department violated the Fair Housing Act by engaging in a pattern and practice of discrimination to drive Black people and Latinos from the high desert city, according to the consent filed in court.
Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said the settlement was the first from a case challenging so-called “crime-free housing” ordinances and should send a message to an estimated 2,000 cities nationwide that have similar policies in place that are often discriminatory.
“Hesperia’s ordinance was a blatantly racially discriminatory solution to a problem that didn’t exist,” Clarke said. “This meant evictions of entire families for conduct involving one tenant or even guests or estranged family members. It meant evictions of the survivors of domestic violence. It meant evictions in the absence of concrete and real evidence of criminal activity.”
The city, county and sheriff’s department denied the allegations and did not admit liability but agreed to pay $1 million to settle the case, according to the court order. The city repealed the ordinance last month and the sheriff agreed to stop enforcing it.
The bulk of the settlement — $670,000 — will go to tenants who were evicted. Some of the money will fund marketing for fair housing and the sheriff’s department will pay a $100,000 civil penalty, prosecutors said.
The city and county did not immediately comment.