State law imperils Claremont’s ‘crime free’ housing policy
by Steven Felschundneff | firstname.lastname@example.org
A controversial program that nonetheless contributed to a significant reduction in crime at Claremont’s large apartment complexes might be in jeopardy because of a new law passed in Sacramento this fall.
Assembly Bill 1418, which took effect January 1 and was signed by Governor Gavin Newsom in October, takes aim at crime free housing policies that many cities, including Claremont, passed in recent years as a means of combating serious crimes in and around apartment buildings.
Claremont’s Crime Free Multi-Housing Program, which launched in 2009, is voluntary on the part of property owners and applies to complexes with 10 or more units.
The new law from the state prohibits cities from forcing or encouraging a landlord to evict someone because they have a criminal background or associate with known criminals. Municipalities are also prevented from requiring property managers to run criminal background checks on prospective tenants. It also restricts cities from imposing penalties on a tenant as a result of making contact with law enforcement. The law does not prevent landlords from initiating evictions on their own accord, including for criminal activity.
Jim Keith, chairman of the Committee for Safe and Healthy Housing, said Claremont’s policy was never about punishing landlords or tenants but was mostly educational.
“Claremont’s Crime Free Program never ‘forced’ actions by managers and owners of apartments of 10 or more units in Claremont,” Keith wrote in an email on Tuesday. “It was an education program on how to deal with quality-of-life issues and patterns that had turned some Claremont apartments into places which residents fled from. Through that education, the number of Part 1 crimes and vandalism within some larger Claremont apartments did decline very significantly.”
Part 1 crimes are those against persons (murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault) and against property (burglary, theft, auto theft and arson.)
When Claremont Police Chief Aaron Fate was a lieutenant he was a key component in getting the policy passed and assisting the committee in its enforcement.
“As part of the Claremont Crime Free Multi-Housing Program, he provided education to apartment residents, managers, and concerned citizens. His efforts resulted in a 50 percent reduction in crime at the 32 apartment complexes in the city by 2015,” according to a news release from the city when Fate was promoted to chief.
But a Rand Corporation study found that these policies had little effect in reducing crime, while significantly increasing evictions, particularly for Black and Hispanic tenants. Researchers also found that crime free housing policies were disproportionally concentrated in neighborhoods with Black and low-income populations.
“These policies do not appear to create any meaningful benefits to communities, but they do likely lead to increased harm for predominantly low-income minority groups,” Max G. Griswold, the study’s lead author wrote in a November 2023 news release.
The first city to adopt a crime free housing policy was Mesa, Arizona in 1992. After that, such programs spread quickly across the United States and Canada, reflecting a wave of tough on crime legislation during the 1990s. A report from Rand Corporation states that more than 100 cities passed similar policies between 1995 and 2020, affecting as many as 4.5 million renter households.
Claremont passed its program after the Committee for Safe and Healthy Housing and city staff recommended it as a tool to address problems emanating from the apartment complexes in the south part of town, specifically along San Jose Avenue.
“We had an extreme situation at the Claremont Cottages,” Keith told the Courier in 2015. “The complex was deteriorating. There were trashed units, graffiti and intimidating residents scaring people out of there. It was a bad situation and drew attention to the need for this program.”
According to the city’s Crime Free Multi-Housing guidelines, the first phase of Claremont’s program involves an eight hour training session led by a Claremont police officer. Apartment managers who complete the training would receive a green colored certificate from the chief of police to be displayed in their leasing offices.
“Participating managers should also begin immediate implementation of the Crime Free Lease Addendum which is the backbone of the CRIME FREE MULTI-HOUSING PROGRAM,” according to the city’s landlord handbook. “This addendum to the lease cites specific actions that will be taken by management if a resident, or somebody under the resident’s control, is involved in illegal or dangerous activity on or near the rental property.”
With the consent of property managers, committee members would tour apartment complexes to “assess the physical security and general appearance of the property” and create an inventory of needed improvements under the program. Typical problem areas were broken security gates, missing or inoperable lighting, and graffiti. Once the recommended improvements are made, police will issue a red colored certificate of completion to management.
The third phase involves organizing a town hall type meeting between residents of the apartment complex, management, and members of the Committee for Safe and Healthy Housing to review “general safety principals and crime prevention.” Following these meetings, the landlord could post a sign in front of the building certifying the completion of the program.
Police also collect data on calls for service to each complex in the program and report those findings twice yearly to the apartment managers, the Claremont Police Commission, and Claremont City Council.
On Monday, city officials had not yet fully evaluated how the new state law would affect Claremont’s policy.
“We will have to see how we can move forward but can’t comment on at this point,” Lieutenant Robert Ewing said on Monday. Ewing is the police department’s current liaison on the Crime Free Multi-Housing Program.
Data on Claremont apartment complexes compiled by Keith in 2019 appears to show a remarkable decline in criminal activity in the years after the policy was enacted. One chart for part 1 crimes and vandalism as a percentage of units, shows a 45% decrease from 2010 to 2019.
Claremont city attorney Alisha Patterson said on Tuesday that the Crime Free Multi-Housing program’s municipal code was unlikely to need revision, but the city anticipates having to adjust the guidelines as found in the landlord handbook. She said the city would issue a statement once it had fully reviewed the program and how it aligns with AB 1418.