Pearlie Rucker, sixty-three years old, had been living in public housing in Oakland, California for thirteen years. Ms. Rucker lived with her mentally disabled adult daughter, Gelinda, as well as two grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Ms. Rucker regularly searched Gelinda's room for signs of drugs, and had warned Gelinda that any drug activity on the premises could result in eviction. Nevertheless, Gelinda was caught with drugs three blocks from the apartment. Despite the fact that Ms. Rucker had no knowledge of Gelinda's drug activity, and in fact had been carefully monitoring what happened in her apartment, the Oakland Housing Authority (OHA) took steps to evict Ms. Rucker. Ms. Rucker and others brought suit in Federal District Court to challenge the actions of the OHA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Eventually, the Supreme Court of the United States, in the 2002 case Department of Housing and Urban Development v. Rucker, held that the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 requires lease terms that give public housing authorities (PHAs) the discretion to evict tenants for the drug-related activity of any household members and guests. The Court held that PHAs have the power to evict regardless of whether a tenant knew or should have known about the drug-related activity. This one-strike policy has been widely criticized as unfair to public housing leaseholders, since it has the potential to devastate them, even if they have not engaged in any drug activity, and even if they had no knowledge of the drug activity of household members and guests. The Rucker decision has also prompted significant discussion among lawyers and academics about ways to alter or challenge the policy to ensure that tenants are not treated in an unfair and draconian way. Given the statistics and social science research indicating that low and very low income households are often female-headed, it is very likely that the Rucker decision weighs most heavily on poor and minority women. These women probably constitute a large majority of the leaseholders who find themselves evicted from public housing under its rule. If the statistics prove this to be true, it may be possible to invalidate the applicable portion of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, along with the HUD regulations that enforce it, based on sex discrimination under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). Alternatively, for PHAs that evict a disproportionate number of female leaseholders, FHA lawsuits could force those authorities to be fairer and more measured in their application of the policy.
Melissa A. Cohen,
Vindicating the Matriarch: A Fair Housing Act Challenge to Federal No-Fault Evictions from Public Housing,
Mich. J. Gender & L.
Available at: http://repository.law.umich.edu/mjgl/vol16/iss1/5