As New York City tries to chip away at its homelessness crisis, a plan is underway to make it more difficult for people accused of committing crimes to find affordable homes. The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) will soon resurrect its “Not Wanted” list, which publicly identifies and bans tenants who supposedly dealt drugs or committed other crimes in public housing.
Beginning in January, NYCHA will publish the list in its tenant newsletter. Specifics about the plan have not been revealed. A similar list that was scrapped in June last year cited names, addresses, and when they were “permanently excluded.”
Residents who made it onto the old list did not have to be convicted of a crime. Instead, they were kicked out based on NYCHA’s own Administrative Hearing Process, which can arbitrarily accuse someone of a crime. Generally, tenants don’t have to be interviewed or told what the accusation is before those hearings. NYCHA can also start the eviction process before it has even conducted an investigation.
Sometimes it evicts people because they are related to someone suspected or convicted of a crime.
For instance, disabled veteran David Venable and his wife Barbara Smith were targeted by NYCHA earlier this year for letting their son Davon sleep in their apartment. NYCHA previously “excluded” Davon because he was caught smoking weed on the premises. Afterwards, Smith signed an agreement with NYCHA that said Davon was excluded from the property. So when investigators caught him napping in his parents’ apartment, Smith and Venable were threatened with eviction. They were also monitored to ensure Davon didn’t turn up again.
By watching residents closely and adding them to a Not Wanted list, NYCHA could end up harming people instead of making tenants more safe. People with felony records are already banned from public housing, but housing authorities do not base their decisions on criminal proceedings.
The NYPD currently publishes weekly roundups of NYCHA crime rates. Between 2009 and 2013, crime on NYCHA properties jumped 31 percent, according to statistics compiled by the department. Twenty percent of shootings in the city occur on NYCHA property, as well as 4 percent of murders. But major violent crimes at the 15 most dangerous properties identified by the NYPD decreased by 10 percent since January 1.
Tenants have been demanding solutions to the crime problem for years. Some have questioned NYCHA’s failure to install security cameras even though it was granted more than $45 million to do so. But residents also believe aggressive monitoring by NYPD has led to overcriminalization of innocent people — and skewed the crime numbers as a result.
The forthcoming Not Wanted list is spearheaded by by NYCHA Chairwoman Shola Olatoye, who’s working on ways to make NYCHA safer. According to her, concerned renters miss the list. “The residents really liked it,” she explained to New York Daily News. “They asked us, ‘Why aren’t you publishing that anymore?”
But some tenants worry the list’s revival could wind up marginalizing people for mistakes they’ve made in the past.
“You know we don’t want to make people pay twice,” Bishop Mitchell Taylor of Queensbridge told NY1. “If someone makes a mistake and they go to prison, they serve their time, paid their debt to society.” Until recently, NYCHA banned many former inmates from public housing.
Policies that turn away people with criminal histories are directly linked to homelessness and recidivism. Low-income people who are turned away from public housing are not likely to find cheap housing elsewhere. They subsequently wind up on the street or in shelters, and are more likely to engage in illegal activities to meet their survival needs. People who do try to better themselves are locked into a cycle of poverty and crime, which is why civil rights groups have pushed the Department of Housing and Urban Development to issue guidance that will make it easier for those with a criminal background to secure affordable housing.