District of Columbia housing officials will begin evicting public housing families this summer whenever one or more family members is convicted of committing any crime -- from stealing a bicycle to selling drugs -- on the project grounds where they live.
Only one other city in the nation, Kansas City, Mo., has such a policy, according to the National Housing Law Project, which monitors public housing laws and defends public housing tenants in court suits.
The tough new policy, aimed at ridding the low-rent housing developments of troublemakers and an image as spawning grounds for crime, could effect 350 to 600 of the city's 12,000 public housing families each year, said Sidney Glee, public housing administrator.
"We are not breeding crime any more," Glee said.
Officials at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said the action appeared to be completely legal and in line with the department's own drive to purge public housing of crime.
The policy appears to have the support of some public housing tenant group leaders, because they and other tenants have long complained of being frequent victims of crime.
But it could face legal challenges.
Lynn Cunningham, an attorney with Neighborhood Legal Services, who frequently represents public housing tenants, said, "The community groups I work with feel it is unfair to evict the whole family." But Cunningham said he could not comment on the legality of the policy because he had not received it.
The city has long had the power to evict whole families when a family member is convicted of committing a crime in the project where the family lived, Glee said, but "nobody did anything."
Under the standard public housing lease now used in Washington and other cities, tenants agree to "refrain from illegal or other activity which impairs the physical or social environment of the project."
Now, Glee said, "the household goes" if crimes are commited.
The new policy would make parents responsible for the actions of their children regardless of their ages. But it would not apply to family members who are convicted of crimes committed outside the project where the family lives, Glee said. The new policy is just one of a series of steps that Glee and Robert L. Moore, director of the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development, have said they intend to make the city's public housing projects more attractive and safer and to improve operating procedures.
Beginning Monday, the housing department will hold classes, for prospective public housing tenants to emphasize the importance of paying rent on time, reporting property in need of repair and correct trash disposal methods.
Glee said prospective tenants will also be screened by housing staff members to insure they have good housekeeping and rent-paying habits.
The attempt to improve the city's stock of public housing occurs at a time when the lack of affordable housing for families earning less than $20,000 is a critical issue and the lack of housing for those earning less than $10,000 is most severe.
No large public housing projects have been built in the city since the mid-1960's and housing officials say they intend to build no more.
They do intend to buy 2,000 units in small apartment buildings and single-family homes across the city and thereby integrate the poor into middle-class neighborhoods. But these new units will have only minimal impact. There are 10,000 families on the public waiting list, some of whom have been waiting more than five years.
Therefore, the city must get maximum use out of its projects, which despite increasing home ownership in the area, will remain the major housing refuge for the poor. Moore has said repeatedly he wants to give project families a better living environment, and one way to start is to rid these areas of crime, according to housing officials.
When Glee outlined the new eviction-for-crime policy to a meeting of about 35 public housing tenants council presidents Thursday night, many applauded.
Sinclaire Wylie, president of the tenants' association at Claridge Towers, a high-rise project for the elderly, called the new policy "wonderful."
She said the 343-unit building at 12th and M streest NW is plagued with prostitutes and bootleggers, people who sell liquor illegally.
But a president at one of the family projects, who asked not to be identified, said she disagreed with the evicition plans.
"Some people try hard to raise their children right and it would be bad to evict those people. Parents don't know (all the time) what their children are doing," she said.
Glee said he has already talked with a D.C. Superior Court judge about devising a method whereby his office can receive a weekly listing of all persons convicted of crimes, their addresses and the address of the crime.
This list would then be cross-checked against public housing addresses, Glee said.
The administrator also said that next week he will send all public housing tenants a letter saying that violations of the lease involving criminal actions will be more closely monitored.
He said the brief letter will simply remind tenants that their leases required that no one "engage in activities and conduct which interfere with the peace and quiet enjoyment of his/her neighbors in the use of their dwelling units."
All illegal activities in the projects, -- such as selling drugs or alcoholic beverages, prostitution, larceny burglary and possession of weapons or stolen goods -- are also prohibited, according to the letter.