Saturday, November 28, 2009

Who Is Left Out?

Tenant interviews for CityWalk have been underway for some time now, and our management company, Pinnacle, is now taking and reviewing lease applications. I’ve been a little surprised at some of the people who are barred by the rules on past criminal acts that we adopted.

First, let me explain how we arrived at those rules. Almost 18 months ago we put together an advisory council of our downtown neighbors. The advisory council included representatives of the YMCA, Fountain Place, First Baptist, and Star Parking, among others. All of those entities are located within two blocks of CityWalk, and we wanted them to be comfortable with our residents. The advisory committee spent several months putting together detailed rules on who would be prohibited from living at CityWalk. The committee took its work seriously and when I reviewed the final draft of the rules, the rules seemed both fair and wise to me.

I’m not going to set all the rules about past criminal problems out here (the rules are somewhat long and legalistic), but in short the rules prohibit anyone from living in the building if:

1. The person has a conviction for sexual crimes or crimes of violence at any time in the past;

2. The person has a felony conviction of any type within the last 10 years; or

3. The person has a continuing pattern of criminal activity, either felonies or misdemeanors.

The idea was to keep out people with really bad criminal histories (sexual or violent), serious recent crimes (felonies in the last 10 years), and people whose problems looked like they were still ongoing. On the other hand, we wanted to make it possible for people who looked like they have turned their life around and wouldn’t be likely to cause a problem to live at CityWalk.

I think the rules are working for the first part of our plan, but maybe not for the second part of it. Two recent applications that we denied (and had to under the rules) make me wonder.

First, we denied the application to lease of someone who had a very serious crime of violence in their past—38 years ago! I don’t know whether this person would have been a good tenant or not, but they didn’t have any further criminal issues for the past 38 years and I’m not aware of any other problems that would have disqualified them from a lease.

I take the safety of our tenants and neighbors very seriously (after all, I will be a neighbor), but 38 years is a long time. It makes me wonder whether there shouldn’t be some length of time after which good behavior outweighs a past misdeed, even a serious misdeed.

The second case was an application with several less serious felonies, all more than a decade old, none of which on first look seemed to be crimes of violence—and certainly weren’t sexual crimes of any sort. Unfortunately, when you looked at the definition of a crime of violence that we were using, one of the decade old felonies qualified as a crime of violence, even though nobody was hurt in its commission.

I talked to this person long enough to be convinced that they would have been a very fine tenant. I would be not just content, but pleased to live in the same building with them. Under the rules under which we are operating, however, the application to lease was denied.

We want to be careful at CityWalk. To some extent the approval of future permanent supportive housing developments will rest on its success. As I know from my time practicing law, it’s very hard to apply objective rules to human behavior and end up with results that seem fair. That’s the problem we’re running into. I still think the rules we worked out with the advisory committee are as good as we could do. I just wish, sometimes, that I didn’t have to enforce them.

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