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Clinton: One Strike and Out for Public Housing Criminals

March 28, 1996 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Clinton ordered eviction Thursday for anyone committing a violent or drug-related crime in public housing, declaring a ``one strike and you’re out″ rule was needed to make such housing safe.

The president signed a directive ordering Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros to issue national guidelines for housing authorities to incorporate the policy through tenant screening and lease agreements.

The policy means any resident could be evicted for being involved in a drug-related or violent crime, or for allowing a guest to take part in those activities. Conceivably, a family could be left homeless by the actions of one of its members.

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``For some, one strike and you’re out sounds like hardball. Well, it is,″ Clinton said. ``If you mess up your community, you have to turn in your key. There is no reason in the world to put the rights of a criminal before those of a child who wants to grow up safe.″

The policy drew mixed reviews from public housing residents.

``I think it’s outrageous. People deserve more than one chance,″ said Patricia Williams, 40, a mother of six who lives in a public housing development in southwest Washington.

And the American Civil Liberties Union said one-strike evictions tread on the rights of innocent people who often cannot control what their children or relatives do.

``It’s another example of how the war on drugs has led to an erosion of constitutional rights,″ said Mark Kappelhoff, a lawyer in the ACLU’s national office in Washington. ``The Fourth Amendment is a shell of what it used to be.″

But Leora Robinson, a resident of a Toledo, Ohio, complex that was cleaned up through one-strike evictions, said such harsh actions often are necessary. She said the policy got rid of the man who stood in front of her door, brandishing a gun in an argument over drugs as she arrived home one evening.

``It works,″ Ms. Robinson said. ``If you’re not involved in criminal activity, the one-strike policy will not bother you.″

Under Thursday’s directive, those targeted for eviction would be notified and given hearings. Eviction would require court sanction, but could take place even if a person hasn’t been convicted of any crime.

``We’re acting at the requests of residents who say the present situation cannot stand,″ Cisneros said. ``The drugs, the gangs, the guns make life unlivable. We want to deal with the people who are responsible.″

Mayors from more than a dozen cities _ including tiny Oxnard, Calif. _ praised Clinton for the policy. ``It will enable us to provide assisted housing only to the truly deserving needy,″ wrote Oxnard Mayor Manuel Lopez.

One-strike eviction has been on federal law books since 1988, and they have been credited with helping reduce crime in Toledo, Greensboro, N.C., and Macon, Ga. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the rule has reduced crime in Greensboro’s public housing by 55 percent, and drug-related arrests in Macon have fallen 91 percent in the past seven years.

Many other housing agencies have not enforced it, either because of problems working with residents or because they believed they lacked full legal authority to carry it out.

As part of Thursday’s order, HUD must grade housing authorities on their compliance with the one-strike rule. Those with low scores would be less likely to receive certain federal funds and more likely to be subject to increased federal supervision.