Do Crime-Free Housing Policies Work?

An Evaluation of Crime-Free Housing Policies
Max Griswold, Stephanie Brooks Holliday, Alex Sizemore, Cheng Ren, Lawrence Baker, Khadesia Howell, Osonde A. Osoba, Jhacova Williams, Jason M. Ward, Sarah B. Hunter
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Crime-free housing policies (CFHPs) are local ordinances that require or incentivize landlords to evict tenants who become involved with the criminal justice system. In cities with these policies, landlords or property managers must attend trainings conducted by law enforcement, receive CFHP certification after making any structural changes (such as fences or deadbolt additions), and add an optional—or required—lease addendum that binds renters to specific CFHP rules. However, the efficacy of these policies is relatively unknown. 

From 1995 to 2020, around 21 percent of California municipalities had adopted some sort of CFHP to reduce crime rates in rental properties, increase tenant stability, and provide other benefits, including increases in home values, improved relationships with law enforcement, and reduced crime burden. However, some legal scholars suggest CFHPs may violate the Fair Housing Act through selective enforcement, discriminatory enactment, and the reproduction of neighborhood segregation.

This study evaluates the effect these CFHPs had on crime rates and evictions over the past 25 years and explores the implementation of these polices. The authors also investigate how population demographics differ between the municipalities with CFHPs and those without.

The authors analyzed CFHPs and related polices, such as nuisance ordinances, across all 482 incorporated municipalities in California. They included crime data such as assault, burglary, and total crime counts, as well as sociodemographic information for the 2009–19 study period. They acquired eviction records from California sheriffs’ offices to construct annual census block group–level eviction counts. Finally, they conducted qualitative interviews with people who have faced eviction because of CFHPs, as well as staff members from organizations that work with those individuals.

The authors conclude that the evidence shows CFHPs do not effectively reduce crime, but they do increase evictions and are disproportionately implemented in areas with larger populations of color. These demographic differences make cities with CFHPs more vulnerable to Fair Housing Act violations when the residents most affected by the policy belong to a protected class.

Key findings
  • There is no statistically meaningful relationship between CFHPs and crime rates. Total crime index counts—a measure of total crime per 10,000 people—decreased by an average of just 0.6 percent after the policies were adopted, but assault rates increased by 1.5 percent. These changes were consistent with the mean decrease in total crime counts in areas without CFHPs within the same time frame.
  • Burglaries decreased 6.4 percent, suggesting that CFHPs may have a small effect on reducing burglaries, but the wide confidence intervals suggest this link is not strong.
  • CFHP municipalities and city blocks containing CFHP-certified rental units saw a 21.2 percent higher eviction rate on average compared with municipalities and city blocks that do not.
  • Qualitative interviews highlight how the implementation of CFHPs obscures their true impact. Violations of the CFHP lease addendum are treated the same as a traditional lease violation, making it difficult to determine how much CFHPs increased evictions.
  • CFHP cities have a higher proportion of Black residents and Asian residents compared with non-CFHP cities, with a difference of 5 percent and 4 percent, respectively. They also had a smaller proportion of white residents, with a –8 percent mean difference compared with cities without CFHPs.
Policy implications
  • The authors recommend against adopting CFHPs if they do not already have them.
  • If a municipality decides to keep its CFHP, the authors suggest that state law should ensure tenants are aware when they are being evicted because of a CFHP, and legislators should consider adopting civil right-to-counsel laws to provide more equitable outcomes for affected renters.