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Police practice: an officer's guide for investigations involving public housing authorities.

For several years, officers with the Livermore, California, Police Department responded to complaints about a drug dealer in the mid-city section of town. Neighbors complained that drug dealing occurred at all hours of the day and night. The police responded, but, every time officers made an arrest, the suspect returned to the same location and continued to commit crimes.

The target of the neighbors' ire had lived at his dilapidated home for years and ran a small methamphetamine business from his living room. He had endured several police raids, drug thefts, and arrests, but he continued to sell methamphetamine from his home while neighbors lived in fear of criminals visiting his house.

One day, the subject was arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia. Subsequently, the investigating officer called a representative of the public housing authority (PHA) who advised that the subject received Section 8 funding assistance for his rent. The investigating officer confirmed the subject's arrest information and explained the subject's previous arrests to the PHA representative. The PHA terminated the subject's Section 8 funding, and the subject left within a month. Once he moved, the neighborhood experienced a dramatic decrease in crime. The Department of Housing and Urban Development has a zero-tolerance policy regarding violent criminal behavior and drugs; therefore, the suspect cannot obtain Section 8 or public housing assistance from another PHA.


PHAs are government entities who administer the Section 8 housing choice voucher program and public housing complexes. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) awards grants to local PHAs to help finance the development of housing to be used as public housing. Once developed, the local PHA owns and manages that housing. As part of its management duties, the PHA is responsible for all aspects of day-to-day operations of the housing, such as accepting and processing applications, executing and enforcing dwelling leases, maintaining and modernizing the buildings, managing finances, and keeping records.

A PHA must charge its residents a dwelling rent based on a percentage of the resident's income. This dwelling rental income usually is insufficient to cover the PHA's operating expenses. To cover this shortfall, HUD pays an operating subsidy to PHAs. In exchange for the financial assistance in developing and operating public housing, PHAs agree to manage the housing according to certain minimum rules and regulations established by HUD. These rules do not cover every aspect of public housing management. Instead, they lay out basic standards and criteria for housing quality, resident eligibility, and financial management, as well as the basic rights and responsibilities of PHAs, HUD, and the residents.


Applicant Screening

How PHAs choose their tenants proves important to a police department. When a PHA does not thoroughly screen applicants and abide by HUD rules and regulations or if it becomes lax in its duties, calls for service will inundate the local police department. For this reason, officers should familiarize themselves with how PHAs should screen applicants for public housing and the Section 8 program.

In 1996, the Housing Opportunity Program Extension Act allowed PHAs to obtain criminal history records of tenants and applicants (with their consent) strictly for public housing screening and lease enforcement. Under this act, PHAs can deny applicants occupancy under the Section 8 voucher program, as well as public housing, if they engage in drug-related criminal activity or alcohol abuse. This law also mandates PHAs to deny assistance to people who have been evicted from federally assisted housing for drug crimes. PHAs must adopt standards to prohibit admission to--

* persons currently involved in illegal drug activity;

* persons convicted of producing methamphetamine on federally assisted housing premises;

* sex offenders required to register for a lifetime with a state program;

* persons determined by a PHA who may pose a safety threat or interfere with the peaceful enjoyment of the premises by other residents because of illegal drug use or alcohol abuse; and

* persons evicted from federally assisted housing for drug-related criminal activity less than 3 years prior to applying for admission unless the tenant successfully completes a rehabilitation program approved by a PHA or the circumstances for the eviction no longer exist.


The Antidrug Abuse Act of 1988 authorized PHAs to terminate leases for illegal drug or criminal activities committed by public housing residents. Further, PHAs can hold household members accountable for the actions of their guests. Because of these strict policies, PHAs and owners of Section 8 properties can evict tenants for criminal activity, regardless of whether a household member or guest has been arrested or convicted of a crime. Federal law does not require conviction to warrant eviction or termination of tenancy for alleged criminal conduct. In so doing, PHAs must provide reasonable facts demonstrating that the person engaged in the alleged criminal offenses. However, a PHA is not required to satisfy the standard of proof for a criminal conviction (guilt beyond a reasonable doubt). PHAs must adopt the following lease provisions to evict a household:

* PHAs immediately must terminate tenancy if they determine that any household member has ever been convicted of manufacturing methamphetamine on the premises of federally assisted housing.

* PHAs may terminate tenancy for drug crimes committed on or off the premises. If an officer arrests a tenant for possession of methamphetamine away from the home, it may result in termination of tenancy.

* PHAs can proceed with eviction if the tenant is involved in criminal activity that threatens the health, safety, or right to peaceful enjoyment of the premises by other residents or PHA management staff.

* PHAs may terminate residency if the household member is engaged in alcohol abuse or a pattern of abuse that results in a safety threat and interferes with the peaceful enjoyment of the premises.

* PHAs may terminate residency if they determine that a household member furnishes false or misleading information regarding illegal drug use or alcohol abuse.


Law enforcement agencies should create a formal relationship with their local PHAs. They should identify the PHA's director and assign one officer who has knowledge of crime in public or Section 8 housing to contact the PHA. Both the department and the PHA should explain their policies and procedures and agree on a schedule for regular communication. To define both the PHA's and police department's responsibilities and limits, the department should request that the PHA have roll call briefings for its officers, and a police officer should meet with PHA staff members as well.


During police investigations, officers may find that perpetrators of the crime live in public housing or are part of the Section 8 program. Officers often deal with public housing/Section 8 tenants on a repeat basis.

Therefore, a strong relationship between the local public housing authority and the police department can benefit both agencies and prevent incidents from becoming a continuing problem. Through mutual support, agencies can work together at decreasing crime in public housing.

For additional information, contact Officer Graves at 925-371-4900 or

Officer Graves serves with the Livermore, California, Police Department and currently is a commissioner for the Livermore Housing Authority's Board of Directors.
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Article Details
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Author:Graves, Keith
Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2002
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