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Proposal in Springfield seeks to stop evictions spurred by police calls

The front of a one-story home. Diamond Jones left her Richton Park home in 2022 after being issued an eviction notice that cited a “crime-free ordinance,” a controversial local law.
Anthony Vazquez
Chicago Sun Times
Diamond Jones left her Richton Park home in 2022 after being issued an eviction notice that cited a “crime-free ordinance,” a controversial local law.

Months after a mom of three young kids spoke out about how she was pushed out of her Richton Park home after her family’s calls to police, housing advocates are pushing a measure in Springfield to ban the use of so-called crime-free ordinances.

A bill filed Friday known as the Community Safety Through Stable Homes Act calls for the repeal of local laws that penalize tenants for having contact with police and often require landlords to initiate eviction procedures.

The measure comes months after the mom, Diamond Jones, filed a federal lawsuit against Richton Park, alleging she was forced out of the home she rented because of the village’s crime-free ordinance.

She alleges in the lawsuit that Richton Park violated her constitutional right to due process as well as her First Amendment rights.

“These ordinances are allowed to continue to exist in light of the arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement regimes,” said Micaela Alvarez, from the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, one of more than a dozen housing groups pushing for the legislation.

The bill would prohibit local governments from requiring landlords to evict a tenant for having contact with police, a criminal conviction or if another person in the household or guest had contact with police. The bill also eliminates local requirements that landlords do criminal background checks.

The bill doesn’t prohibit landlords from doing criminal background checks or prevent them from tenant evictions, Alvarez said.

Housing advocates in Illinois have long been looking at the issue of crime-free ordinances, and they were partially inspired by California, which this year enacted a new law that bans municipalities from enforcing those types of polices, said Alvarez, one of the attorneys representing Jones.

A report published last year by RAND Corp., a nonpartisan research organization, examined crime-free policies in California and found these types of policies were disproportionately implemented in areas with a large number of Black residents. Their research also found the policies did not drastically change crimes, but they did increase evictions in those areas where the policy was implemented.

In Illinois, it’s estimated more than 140 municipalities have a variation of crime-free ordinances, according to the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights.

Chicago’s version is called the “chronic illegal activity premises.”

An analysis similar to one completed in California hasn’t been done for Illinois.

“These ordinances operate under the radar,” Alvarez said. “We think it’s really hard to understand the aggregate impact of these ordinances because tenants so frequently either don’t understand that’s the reason for their eviction or they’re being pushed out of their home is a crime-free violation or a nuisance property violation.”

State Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago, who is sponsoring the bill, said the legislation won’t stop property owners from evicting tenants if they are a nuisance or inhibit local prosecutors from enforcing laws.

“Making our communities safer should be a top priority, but there is simply no evidence that crime-free ordinances reduce crime,” Ford said in a statement. “Instead, they unfairly punish renters and property owners.”

Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from the Chicago Community Trust.
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