For Immediate Release
ACLU Challenges Unlawful Banning of Tenants' Families and Invited Guests From Public Housing
Group Launches "Families Untied" Video With Plaintiffs From Lawsuit
homes, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Maryland
filed a lawsuit today challenging a policy that unlawfully bans certain
individuals from being on or near public housing in Annapolis,
Maryland, even when they are invited guests of tenants. Under the
policy, Annapolis public housing residents who allow banned friends and
family members into their homes are subject to eviction. The lawsuit
was filed against the Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis (HACA)
and the Annapolis Police Department on behalf of residents of Annapolis
public housing as well as family and friends of those residents who
have been prevented from visiting and participating in raising and
caring for their children, parents, grandchildren and other relatives.
The ACLU asserts that many of the
over 500 people on HACA's banned list do not pose any danger to the
community. In fact, many individuals were banned from HACA public
housing based on incidents for which they were never convicted or even
charged with a crime. HACA has also refused to remove individuals from
the list even when the individuals can show they were innocent or
vindicated in court.
"What could be more cruel or
wrongheaded than baselessly prohibiting a three-year-old boy from
visiting with his father in his own home - even when his dad was never
prosecuted or convicted of any crime?" said Deborah A. Jeon, the Legal
Director of the ACLU of Maryland. "HACA's policy deprives tenants of
their fundamental rights to control their own homes, and punishes the
people on the banned list just for trying to be involved in the lives
of their families and friends. The agency would do much better to
implement programs that would help reinforce family stability, but
instead, HACA has chosen an irrational policy that tears families
The lawsuit, filed in the Circuit
Court for Anne Arundel County, charges that the banning policy violates
the rights of public housing residents and their families and friends
to free association, privacy and quiet enjoyment in their own homes.
Under the policy, anyone HACA
unilaterally designates as "detrimental to the overall quality of life
for public housing residents" can be banned from HACA property for
three years to life. HACA does not clearly define the criteria for
getting on or off the banned list. HACA has charged residents visited
by people on the banned list with lease violations and, in some cases,
entered into eviction proceedings.
One of the residents the ACLU is
representing, Esther Sharps, is a 71-year-old grandmother who has been
isolated from her family because eight of her 12 grandsons and three of
her sons have been on the banned list. Sharps has been warned that if
those sons or grandsons visit her she will be charged with a lease
violation that would put her in danger of eviction. On Mother's Day,
Sharps and her family had to gather at a relative's house, because so
many members of her family could not come to her home because of the
banning policy. Sharps is in poor health and depends on one grandson to
take her to the doctor, the grocery store and on other necessary
errands, but he is on the banned list, and she has to make her way off
HACA property to meet him.
Two young parents in the suit have
been prevented from sharing parenting responsibilities - a problem
faced by many of the affected families who live in HACA properties.
Delray Fowlkes used to see his
three-year-old son every day, but now he is unable to visit him and his
mother where they live in HACA public housing. Fowlkes would like to
fully share in his son's care, but he cannot because he was placed on
the HACA banned list because of an arrest five years ago - an arrest
for which charges were ultimately dropped. The only other arrests
Fowlkes has had are for trespassing on HACA property. HACA pays the
Annapolis Police Department tens of thousands of dollars every year to
enforce the policy by arresting people on the banned list for
trespassing, and if a banned person comes onto or "near" HACA property,
that person is arrested. Despite numerous appeals to HACA, Fowlkes has
not been able to get removed from the banned list.
"All I want is to be a part of my
son's life," said Fowlkes. "I've done everything I can think of to get
off the banned list with no success. I really hope this lawsuit will
help me and other parents in the same situation to be with our
Dalanda Moses, an 18-year-old
mother, was forced to move from HACA public housing so that her
boyfriend could participate in caring for their baby. From the very
beginning, her boyfriend wanted to be involved with his child's life
and would pick Moses up from school to take her to doctors'
appointments. However, after a single juvenile arrest, he could not
come to Moses' home because he was placed on the banned list. After
their daughter was born, Moses would take her to the home of her
boyfriend's grandmother so that they could co-parent. The burden of
this constant journey became too great, and Moses had to move in order
for her boyfriend to help her parent, though she would have preferred
to remain in HACA housing with her mother.
"HACA's banning policy doesn't
promote public safety, it prevents parents from raising their
children," said Ariela Migdal, a staff attorney with the ACLU Women's
Rights Project. "Separating people from their families doesn't make
public housing safer, it just aggravates social problems."
The attorneys on the case, Sharps v. Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis,
are Jeon of the ACLU of Maryland, Migdal, Lenora Lapidus and Emily
Martin from the ACLU Women's Rights Project, and Sten Jensen, Meredith
Moss, Lauren Maggio and Richard Rinkema from the Washington, DC office
of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, a law firm engaged in
representing the plaintiffs pro bono.
A copy of the complaint as well as a video with ACLU clients in the case can be found online at: www.aclu.org/housingban
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.