by Phillip Smith
The Chicago Housing Authority wants to require all current and future adult residents–including senior citizens–to pass a drug test. A positive drug test would result in an eviction notice for the resident.
The proposal is one of several changes to the CHA's Admission and Continued Occupancy Policy submitted by CEO Lewis Jordan. Jordan and other agency officials argue they need more tools to fight crime and drugs in the housing projects.
The American Civil Liberties Union accused the CHA of subjecting the poor to a double standard, while resident leaders said the proposal was humiliating.
"The ACLU opposes drug testing in the absence of suspicion as a condition of residency in public housing," senior lawyer Adam Schwartz told the Chicago Sun-Times. "From our perspective, drug testing without suspicion is humiliating. It’s stigmatizing. There’s a double standard here," he said. "All across our city and our country, when most of us who are in whatever income bracket rent housing, we don’t have to take a drug test. This is an emerging one standard for poor people and another standard for everyone else."
"Singling us out for this type of humiliation is a slap in the face of what this whole 'Plan for Transformation" supposedly is about," Myra King, chair of the central advisory council of tenant leaders for all CHA housing in the city, told the Sun-Times. "CHA says they’re doing this plan to make us privy to the same standards as any other citizen in any other community. If that’s true, why are we the only citizens to be drug tested?"
Lewis's "Plan for Transformation" also included eliminating the "innocent tenant defense," which allows residents whose relatives or guests committed a drug offense or crime of violence to avoid eviction if they can show they were unaware of the activity. In a 2002 case, the US Supreme Court ruled that housing authorities could evict innocent tenants, but they are not required to. Former CHA head Terry Peterson had reached an agreement with tenants that allowed the continued use of the defense if it could be proved in court.
Spokeswoman Kellie O’Connell-Miller defended the proposals, pointing out that several CHA mixed-income properties currently require drug testing. "These are policies to help strengthen and improve the safety of our public housing communities," O’Connell-Miller said. "We’re constantly hearing from law-abiding residents that they want us to hold the non-law abiding residents more accountable. We’re trying to tighten up our lease with some of these issues. Drug dealers won’t come where there are no buyers. If you remove the folks who are interested in drugs, hopefully it will remove some of the problems," she said.
Making the policy system wide would apply it to some 16,000 families living in family and senior public housing. The CHA has not estimated the cost of the proposal, O'Connell-Miller said.
The proposals are open to public comment through June 16, with a public hearing set for Thursday. If the proposal is adopted, it must then be approved by the CHA Board and then the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
And then the CHA can spend good money fighting (and most likely losing), the inevitable legal challenges. The precedent here is the state of Michigan's 1990s law mandating the suspicionless drug testing of welfare recipients. It was rejected by the federal courts in 2003 for violating Fourth Amendment proscriptions against unreasonable search and seizure.