PHA Can't Terminate Voucher for Single Off-Site Alcohol-Related Crime
Facts: A resident applied for the Section 8 program through the Veteran’s Administration Medical Center (VAMC), and the Veteran’s Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) program screened and approved him. The resident entered into a Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) contract with a private landlord. Under the HAP contract, the resident agreed “not to permit or act or practice illegal or legal acts injurious to the building, or persons, or in the building, on the property, or which may be disturbing to other residents or neighbors. Any acts can and will result in immediate eviction and loss of rent and/or security deposit.”
Section 4 of his Section 8 program voucher, entitled “Obligations of the Family,” further specified, “The family (including each family member) must not engage in . . . criminal activity that threatens the health, safety or right to peaceful enjoyment of other residents and persons residing in the immediate vicinity of the premises . . . engage in abuse of alcohol in a way that threatens the health, safety or right to peaceful enjoyment of the other residents and persons residing in the immediate vicinity of the premises.”
One day in September 2017, the local police department received a report that the resident was asking sexually explicit questions and propositioning an underage girl at a bus station. While speaking with him, officers determined that he was intoxicated; he became disorderly with the officers, swore in front of children, and resisted arrest. He was charged with disorderly conduct (unreasonable noise), public drunkenness, and corruption of minors. He was ultimately found guilty of the public drunkenness charge.
In December 2017, the local PHA notified the resident that, due to his September 2017 behavior, he was being dismissed from the Section 8 program. At the informal hearing, the PHA concluded that he “violated the rules and regulations of the Section 8 program by being involved in criminal activity which threatens the health, safety and peaceful enjoyment of other residents.”
The resident appealed to the trial court. The trial court upheld the PHA’s decision. The evidence presented to the trial court established that the PHA terminated his Section 8 program benefits because he was involved in a single alcohol-related crime that occurred approximately two miles from his residence and because he had a record of prior criminal charges. The trial court found that the PHA properly exercised its discretion to terminate his assistance since his “abuse or pattern of abuse of alcohol may threaten the health, safety, or right to peaceful enjoyment of other residents,” and that the vicinity of the bus station incident wasn’t relevant. The resident appealed the trial court’s decision.
Ruling: The Pennsylvania Commonwealth court reversed the trial court’s decision.
Reasoning: According to the court, based upon all of the language in Section 8 of the Housing Act, HUD regulations, the HAP contract, the Tenancy Addendum, the Voucher, and the Administrative Plan, it is clear that criminal activity and/or alcohol abuse alone is not a sufficient basis upon which to terminate Section 8 program benefits.
Congress didn’t state in Section 8 of the Housing Act that any and all criminal activity, wherever it occurs, is grounds to terminate Section 8 program benefits. Neither did the HUD regulations, the HAP contract, nor the documents that the resident signed place him on notice that any and all criminal activity and/or alcohol abuse no matter where it takes place constitute grounds upon which the PHA could end his benefits. Rather, based upon Section 8(d)(1)(B)(iii) of the Housing Act and applicable HUD regulations, the PHA must prove, and the court must find that the tenant: (1) engaged in criminal activity (and/or alcohol abuse); and (2) such activity threatens the health, safety, or right to peaceful enjoyment of residents and/or persons in the immediate vicinity thereof.
The second element demands proof of a threat to the health, safety, or right to peaceful enjoyment of residents and/or persons in the immediate vicinity on or near the Section 8 program leased premises. Thus, it’s not the occurrence of the crime and/or alcohol-related act that’s needed to jeopardize resident’s assistance or the possibility that it could occur; there must also be proof that the health, safety, or peaceful enjoyment rights of those who reside in the “immediate vicinity” of the resident’s premises was “threatened” by that act.
Since the local PHA didn’t present any evidence at the trial court hearing that the resident’s incident made other residents of the premises where he lived feel insecure or anxious for their health, safety, or peaceful enjoyment, the court concluded that the PHA had no statutory or regulatory basis on which to terminate his benefits.
- Cox v. Johnstown Housing Authority, June 2019