Last November, KSTP-TV aired a story titled “Evicted Before Convicted.” It described the city of St. Louis Park’s “crime-free, drug-free” multifamily housing ordinance, an unjust practice that evicted tenants without just cause and/or due process.
The KSTP report told the story of a former St. Louis Park renter who was evicted because of an ex-partner’s arrest for assaulting an officer. Because of the “crime-free, drug-free” multifamily housing ordinance requirements, the St. Louis Park Police Department was obligated to send a notice to the renter’s landlord about the ex-partner’s arrest. As a result, the renter, an innocent victim who wasn’t even present at this incident, was evicted.
Ironically, the renter’s ex-partner’s case was processed through the justice system, with the right to a fair trial. However, the renter had no due process or no legal recourse and immediately lost her home.
As members of the St. Louis Park Community Housing Team, a grassroots coalition of renters, homeowners, faith partners and service providers who organize and advocate for affordable housing needs in St. Louis Park, we feel shame that this is how our St. Louis Park community is treating our neighbors. We believe it’s our responsibility to change this unjust ordinance.
Not only does St. Louis Park’s “crime-free, drug-free” ordinance violate tenants’ rights to due process, but it also outsources enforcement to private landlords and law enforcement, rather than the justice system. The KSTP story found that nearly 67% of renters evicted under this ordinance were not arrested or even charged with a crime, yet they still were evicted from their homes. That’s not right.
National studies done by the Shriver Foundation have shown “crime-free, drug-free” ordinances disparately impact low- income communities and communities of color, and in 2016 the Department of Housing and Urban Development issued guidance that these types of ordinances may be a violation of the Fair Housing Act.
St. Louis Park is facing an affordable housing crisis as we lose more affordable units to the increasing development of luxury rental units. The subsequent rent increases result in the displacement of many longtime neighbors who are being priced out. The “crime-free, drug-free” ordinance furthers the displacement of vulnerable renters in St. Louis Park by screening out anyone with a criminal or eviction history and actively displacing them as an extrajudicial penalty.
We, as members of the St. Louis Park Community Housing Team, believe housing is a human right. This includes providing rental housing that is accessible to those making less than $30,000 yearly, and those who are hoping to move past their rental or criminal history. It also includes people with low-level, nonviolent offenses, and those whose loved ones make mistakes. We know the criminal justice system is already substantially more punitive to black, native and other communities of color. We believe St. Louis Park is not equitable when it retains the present wording and practice of this extrajudicial, potentially illegal eviction ordinance.
We imagine a future where St. Louis Park neighbors stick with each other through hard times and show up for one another when they need each other most. We envision a future where the rent prices in every building reflect our values of inclusiveness, diversity and the welcoming of the stranger. We envision a future where our laws create a St. Louis Park for everyone.
We are working for a city where we do not displace residents who are perceived as a blight, but meet our neighbors where they are and walk with them arm in arm toward a more just future. Keeping people in their homes is critical to that end, and serious revision or repealing of the “crime-free, drug-free” ordinance is a necessary first step toward it.
We believe both tenants and landlords should follow the laws, and the justice system should be used when they don’t.
Aaron Berc is a community organizer at Jewish Community Action. Karl Gamradt is a resident of St. Louis Park.