Making Justice Real

The Official Blog of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia

Harsh Consequences of “One Strike” Policy Exposed in a Recent New York Times Article

Beth Harrison, Supervising Attorney & Director, Court Based Legal Services Project

Legal Aid’s Housing Unit sometimes represents tenants living in subsidized housing who are facing eviction and/or the loss of their housing subsidy under the federal “one strike” policy.  Federal law prohibits tenants from engaging in criminal activity that disturbs others, including any violent or drug-related criminal activity, on or near a subsidized housing property.  The policy applies to misdemeanors as well as felonies, regardless of whether any criminal charges were ever pursued or won.  The tenant is responsible for not only her own actions but also the actions of her household members and guests, even if she is not personally involved in any activity, does not know about it, and could not have prevented it.  The policy is truly “one strike and you’re out”:  a tenant can be evicted and lose her housing subsidy, even if she personally is innocent and offers to bar the offender. 

As you might imagine, the one strike policy can have particularly harsh consequences for our clients.  To cite one common scenario, because a young adult son possesses marijuana on the property, his mother and the rest of the family can lose their apartment and their subsidy.  Since the waiting lists for subsidized housing in D.C. are measured in terms of years rather than months, the loss of a federal housing subsidy can be devastating for a low-income family. 

Last Sunday, the New York Times published an article examining the implementation of the one strike policy by the Chicago Housing Authority.  Among the findings it reported:  86 percent of cases from 2010 had nothing to do with the primary leaseholder; 76 percent of cases that year were misdemeanors; and in the majority of cases, the defendants were found not guilty, their cases were thrown out, or they were never prosecuted.  Legal Aid has observed similar trends in the application of the one strike policy in D.C.

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One Comment

  • Kathryn Baer on Sep 10, 2011

    This is truly shocking, Beth. Seems to violate what I thought was one of our basic principles: that people are innocent until proven guilty. I hope you will tell us more about how the “one strike” policy has affected subsidized housing tenants in DC. Also if there’s anything we can do about it.