Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

High Court Upholds Tough Anti-Drug Law for Subsidized Public Housing

Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

High Court Upholds Tough Anti-Drug Law for Subsidized Public Housing

Article excerpt

The United States Supreme Court unanimously upheld a 1988 law (PL 100-690) that allows families to be evicted from federally subsidized public housing for drug use by a family member or guest.

The case began when four evicted public housing tenants from Oakland, Calif., sued in federal court to get their apartments back, claiming that they had not known what their friends or family were doing. The tenants further argued that Congress could not have meant to punish unwitting individuals when it passed a 1988 law telling housing projects to require tenants to control drug use in their apartments. A lower federal appeals court agreed with the tenants last year.

The high court dismissed the tenants' arguments that they should be allowed to avoid eviction by showing that they were unaware of the drug use. In a unanimous opinion written by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, the court held that Congress had spoken clearly.

"There is an obvious reason why Congress would have permitted local public housing authorities to conduct no-fault evictions," Rehnquist wrote, quoting the language of federal regulations implementing the 1988 law. "Regardless of knowledge, a tenant who cannot control drug crime, or other criminal activities by a household member which threaten health or safety of other residents, is a threat to other residents and the project."

Senior citizens groups argued that elderly tenants would be hurt the most. More than 1.7 million families headed by people over age 61 live in public housing. HUD's one-strike policy is founded on the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, which requires that all public housing leases prohibit criminal activity on or near the premises by a tenant, guest or other person under the tenant's control. …

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