NORFOLK -- Efforts to evict public housing tenants accused of being involved with drugs have been stymied due to court and and procedural delays, local officials say.
The Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority still is seeking its first court-ordered eviction under the disputed anti-drug policy. Other Virginia localities report waiting up to 18 months to resolve cases in court.
"It takes six to 12 months just to get into circuit court if you have a case," said Marcus Johnson, NRHA director of housing management.
Norfolk's first case to reach the court may be heard Nov. 19, NRHA attorney Howard Martin said. He said it involves NRHA efforts to evict a woman whose teenage son was accused of being involved with drugs.
Across Virginia, waits of six to 18 months are not considered unusual, said Del. John "Chip" Dicks III, a Chesterfield County lawmaker.
U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack Kemp in the spring of last year strongly urged localities to take tenants accused of being involved with drugs to court to evict them, rather than take them to traditional grievance panels. Kemp relieved Virginia housing authorities of the grievance panel requirement after the drug-related murder of an Alexandria policeman.
The change allowed housing agencies to initiate evictions based on drug arrests, not just convictions. Under the rule, all the tenants in an apartment can be evicted if one of them has been accused in a drug case.
The American Civil Liberties Union has challenged the policy. A drug arrest without conviction is not a sufficient basis to evict tenants unless it involves one of three other lease violations: nonpayment of rent, property destruction, or disturbing the rights of other tenants to peaceful occupancy, said Kent Willis, director of the Virginia ACLU.
The difficulty in obtaining a court-ordered eviction is exemplified by the case of 64-year-old Gladys McFadden, officials told The Virginian-Pilot newspaper.
McFadden, who lives in Calvert Square, was convicted of dealing drugs in 1984 and again in January.
Between convictions, McFadden signed a special anti-drug contract that stipulated that drug-related convictions would mean automatic eviction. She was convicted of accommodating the distribution of cocaine earlier this year and served about five months in jail. Last month, a general district judge ruled she could be evicted. But McFadden filed an appeal on Oct. 9 to Circuit Court and the case may not be heard until March. She can remain in her apartment until the appeal is resolved.
Some cities have had more success with evictions than Norfolk.
The Portsmouth Redevelopment and Housing Authority has made 82 eviction attempts since August 1988. Thirty-three families voluntarily left and 29 were evicted by the local general district court, although the court evictions were technically based on nonpayment of rent before drug cases were heard. Portsmouth won in six cases that were heard on appeal and lost in four.