ANNAPOLIS, MD – The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Maryland and the Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis (HACA) have jointly announced that they have reached a settlement of an ACLU case on behalf of Annapolis public housing residents and their families and friends who were unlawfully banned from the residents' homes. A new policy will be put in place to prevent unlawful banning and to establish a transparent procedure for removal from the ban list. The residents, who had faced eviction if they allowed banned individuals onto the premises, will now be able to designate banned individuals as "invited guests" who will be issued renewable passes. Many of those on the existing list will be eligible for removal upon request.
"We are pleased that the new procedures honor civil rights while still promoting safety, and set standards that will permit fairer treatment for both residents and their guests," said Deborah A. Jeon, Legal Director of the ACLU of Maryland. "It is a positive step forward that HACA will no longer promote a policy that punishes people for trying to be involved in their loved ones' lives. We commend HACA for working with us to find common ground that will ensure residents' safety while also protecting their civil rights."
Under the old policy, anyone HACA designated as "detrimental to the overall quality of life for public housing residents" could be banned from HACA property for three years to life. The ACLU maintained that most of the more than 500 people on the list of banned individuals do not pose any danger to the community, and many were banned by HACA based on incidents for which they were never convicted or even charged with a crime. As a result, family and friends of public housing residents were prohibited from visiting and caring for their loved ones, and had no way to be removed from the list.
"We are delighted to have reached a compromise that we feel will maintain the safety of both residents and visitors in HACA properties," said HACA Chairman Carl O. Snowden. "Given HACA's limited resources, we believe that it is in the best interest of the residents that we serve to negotiate rather than litigate, and the dollars we have saved as a result of this settlement will be used to improve the quality of life of HACA residents. We commend the ACLU for working with HACA to reach an amiable settlement."
The ACLU had filed a lawsuit against HACA and the City of Annapolis in August 2009 charging that the banning policy violated the rights of public housing residents and their families and friends to free association, intimate association and freedom from unreasonable arrests. In addition to allowing residents to apply for passes, the settlement will require HACA to provide residents with a list of banned persons once a month so they will know whether or not their loved ones are on the list.
In addition to the HACA settlement, the ACLU's clients have also reached a settlement with the City of Annapolis.
"This policy put an unnecessary strain on families who were just trying to stay together and be there for each other," said Ariela Migdal, a staff attorney with the ACLU Women's Rights Project. "Residents should have the right to decide who can come and go in their own homes."
Esther Sharps, one of the plaintiffs in the case, is a 71-year-old grandmother who has been isolated from her family because eight of her 12 grandsons and three of her sons have been on the banned list. Sharps had been warned that if those sons or grandsons visited her she would be charged with a lease violation that would put her in danger of eviction. Sharps is in poor health and depends on one grandson to take her to the doctor, the grocery store and on other necessary errands. But because he was on the banned list, she had to make her way off HACA property to meet him.
"I'm glad that now my children – and everyone's children and grandchildren – will be able to reunite with their families," she said. "The policy had been tearing our family apart. Now at least we'll be able to spend holidays together."
Other plaintiffs include young parents who had been prevented from sharing parenting responsibilities because one of them had been placed on the list, and a young mother who was forced to leave public housing so her boyfriend, who had been placed on the list, could participate in raising their young son.
The attorneys on the case, Sharps v. Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis, are Jeon of the ACLU of Maryland, Migdal and Lenora Lapidus of the ACLU Women's Rights Project, and Sten Jensen, Lauren Parker, Richard Rinkema and Justin Bagdady from the Washington, DC office of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, a law firm engaged in representing the plaintiffs pro bono.