Department of Justice seeks input from victims of Tampa's 'crime free multi-housing' program

The DOJ wants to talk to people who were displaced by the program, which was initiated by Tampa police.

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click to enlarge Mayor Jane Castor speaks at a press conference about the crime free multi-housing program in Tampa, Florida on April 29, 2022. - Screengrab via City of Tampa/YouTube
Screengrab via City of Tampa/YouTube
Mayor Jane Castor speaks at a press conference about the crime free multi-housing program in Tampa, Florida on April 29, 2022.
As the federal investigation into Tampa's "crime free multi-housing" program continues, the U.S. Department of Justice is looking for statements from those who were negatively impacted by it.

According to a document obtained by Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, the DOJ is evaluating how Tampa implemented the program, and if it targeted Black and Latino renters—or the areas where they are more likely to live.

The DOJ has not yet determined if the program violated federal law, but is looking for personal input as part of the investigation.

"If you have information about the enforcement of Tampa’s Crime Free MultiHousing Program, including how you may have been affected by the Program, we want to hear from you," the document reads.

Under the program, Tampa Police Department encouraged landlords to evict tenants who were associated with any alleged criminal activity, whether or not they were found guilty in court. Around 1,100 renters were flagged for eviction—90% of whom were Black. This has led the project to be colloquially termed "renting while Black" by social justice groups.
The DOJ is specifically looking to talk to people who lost or were denied rental housing in Tampa between 2013 and now, or those who were asked to leave or were denied rental housing following an arrest or other alleged criminal activity, whether or not there was a charge or conviction.

Statements are also sought from those whose housing was impacted by a call to 911 for help because of mental health or domestic violence issues, or due to the arrest of another tenant, guest, or family member.

The DOJ asks anyone who falls under these categories to call 1-833-591-0291, press 1 for English, press 1 for Discrimination in Housing, and press 6 for the crime free investigation. The DOJ can also be contacted by email at: [email protected]
The investigation was launched into the program last December. Mayor Jane Castor kept it a secret for five months, before hosting a press conference to announce the investigation 10 days after CL made a public records request about it last April.

Mayor Castor defended the program at the presser, saying that it helped reduce crime, and alluded to the city initiating the investigation. But in fact the city had only sent a letter to Housing and Urban Development to review the program, and the DOJ started the investigation into the program on its own.

"The U.S. Department of Justice has initiated an investigation of the old Crime Free initiative to ensure that that program did not violate the Fair Housing Act by making unavailable or denying housing units," the city wrote in a press release last April.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination by providers of housing.

While Castor and TPD claimed the program targeted serious crimes, some renters—including entire families who did not commit any crimes—were evicted because a housemate had been arrested for minor infractions like panhandling and petty theft.
A Yale professor and author of 'How Fascism Works' reviewed the program's documents and told CL that it used both fascist language and racially-biased stereotypes. Documents obtained by CL earlier this year revealed more racially charged language in the program.

More documents procured by CL show that both ex-police chief Mary O'Connor and Castor oversaw the program, while also operating the "biking while Black" program at TPD, which targeted Black bicyclists for stop and search and was also the subject of a federal investigation.

In December of 2021—despite Castor adamantly defending the program in the face of legal and civil rights groups from around the country demanding it to end—interim police chief Butch Delgado changed the program to what TPD said is a less intrusive model called "SAFE".

SAFE seems to cease some of the worst aspects of the former program and cut ties from the national "crime free" model. TPD says it no longer communicates directly with landlords to tell them when a tenant has committed a crime. Instead, TPD says the program focuses on education and training on public safety best practices.

But local attorney and activist James Michael Shaw Jr. says that the negative effects of renting while Black are still being felt.

"They didn't put the toothpaste back in the tube, they just put the cap back on," Shaw wrote in a message to CL. "With SAFE, TPD stopped asking landlords to stick language into lease agreements saying tenants will get evicted if a family member or guest gets arrested, but they can't make landlords stop using that language now that they've started using it. And they're still using it."

Shaw says that the only way to undo the damage is to pass a law that invalidates lease provisions that can lead to discrimination.

About The Author

Justin Garcia

Justin Garcia has written for The Nation, Investigative Reporters & Editors Journal, the USA Today Network and various other news outlets. When he's not writing, Justin likes to make music, read, play basketball and spend time with loved ones. 

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