City of Savannah suspends Crime Free Housing Program

City of Savannah suspends Crime Free Housing Program

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Savannah is putting the Crime Free Housing Program on hold as they seek to increase access to fair housing for all, including those with criminal backgrounds, 

The city has been a part of the international, voluntary program for nearly two decades.

Officials with the ACLU is taking the fight to communities all across the country with Crime Free Housing Program's and the like challenging their legality and fairness to those looking for affordable housing.

When the American Civil Liberties Union approached the Savannah Police Department about the Crime Free Housing Program, Department leaders say they were already looking at suspending it.

While the city doesn't believe program unlawfully denies housing to people with criminal records, the City Attorney's Office will start a study and review, and consider recent guidance issued by the Department of  Housing and Urban Development on the Police

The Savannah-Chatham County Fair Housing Council admits not all of the program was wrong, specifically the parts addressing adequate lighting, security and community activities.

"Mainly our issue was with the criminal history and criminal background issue," said Wayne Dawson, the Director of Savannah-Chatham County's Fair Housing Council. "And HUD has issued guidance because there's a number of communities across the country that have a similar type policy."

Dawson's Fair Housing Council along with the ACLU will be working with Savannah to rework the program.

He thinks some property managers in town will reverse course on the issue after taking a closer look at the actual impacts.

"Whenever they were originally approached," said Dawson. "The company bought into it because Crime Free sounds like a great concept. And who would be against crime free housing? Well, the devil is in the details. Sometimes you have to look at what does."

As adopted, the Crime Free Housing Program enabled property managers to deny any housing applicant with a violent felony conviction.

Those with non-violent felonies had to wait 10 years from conviction to apply, and anyone with a misdemeanor conviction had to wait 5 years from that conviction.

The City says they welcome input of all stakeholders and have requested that the ACLU and its partners identify model policies and best practices they support to ensure the program continues to further the community's interests in both equitable housing options and public safety.

Copyright 2018 WTOC. All rights reserved.