PHA Can Terminate Voucher for Qualifying Criminal Activity
Facts: A Section 8 voucher holder was involved in an altercation involving her sister, a neighbor, and the neighbor’s daughter. She was found guilty on two counts of second-degree assault and was incarcerated at a detention center. After she was released from jail, her unit failed a Housing Quality Inspection due to a rodent infestation, and she wasn’t present for the reinspection.
The following month the local PHA sent a letter notifying her that her housing voucher was being terminated for, among other reasons, her assault conviction. The letter also advised that her housing assistance would terminate Dec. 31, 2015, and that she had the right to request an informal hearing within 14 days. She requested a hearing, and the hearing officer issued a decision upholding the termination on Jan. 6, 2016. The voucher holder asked the court to review the hearing officer’s decision, arguing that she was “falsely” charged with two counts of second-degree assault. The court determined that the record contained substantial evidence to justify the PHA’s decision to terminate her voucher. The voucher holder appealed.
Ruling: A Maryland appeals court affirmed the lower court’s ruling in favor of the PHA.
Reasoning: The court found that the hearing officer’s decision was supported by substantial evidence of qualifying criminal activity. Both parties recognized that criminal activity, generally, is an acceptable ground upon which the PHA may terminate assistance. HUD regulations identify three categories of criminal activity for which termination is appropriate: “drug criminals,” “alcohol abusers,” and “other criminals” as described in 24 C.F.R. § 982.551. “Other criminals” includes “violent” criminals and those engaged in “criminal activity that threatens the health, safety, or right to peaceful enjoyment of other residents” and neighbors. Thus, the PHA may terminate program assistance if it finds, by a preponderance of the evidence, “that any household member has violated” either obligation. With this standard in mind, the court evaluated the record and determined that it contained substantial evidence for the PHA to determine, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the resident’s alleged conduct was violent or threatening to health, safety, or peaceful enjoyment.
On the day of the assault, the voucher holder pressed charges against her neighbor. Later, the neighbor pressed charges against the voucher holder for two counts of second-degree assault. While the state dismissed all charges against the neighbor, it pursued them against the voucher holder and after a trial, she was found guilty on both charges. She appealed her convictions but lost.
The PHA wasn’t required to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Instead, the PHA needed only to establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the voucher holder committed the violent act or threatened resident health, safety, or peaceable enjoyment for which her voucher was terminated. The court concluded that the hearing officer didn’t ignore her claim that she “was the victim of the assault and not the aggressor,” or that she “testified that [she was] working to have the charges overturned,” but decided to rely on the conviction itself to tip the scales. The court concluded that a reasoning mind could have reached the factual conclusion the agency reached, so it upheld the PHA’s decision to terminate her voucher.
- McDonell v. Harford City Housing Agency, January 2019