The Oakland City Council’s unanimous adoption of an amended Nuisance Eviction Ordinance (NEO) threatens the stability of some of our most vulnerable current and former foster youth, particularly those who have been or are currently victims of commercial sexual exploitation.
The amended NEO provides city officials the authority to evict suspected sex workers—and anyone engaged in certain “nuisance” activities—from their homes, even if these individuals haven’t been convicted of any crimes. Further, landlords can now request that the city carry out these evictions.
The roots of the original NEO were questionable. The ordinance worked to provide officials the power to use drug and weapon charges (and the nuisance and danger associated with such activities) to charge tenants with evictions. The expansion of the ordinance is a vehicle for unjust profiling, a blatant attempt at fast tracking the gentrification of a city where locals are already being priced out. And, to the point of this article, the amended NEO inadvertently targets victims.
The expansion of the NEO allows for the definitions of “nuisance” and “unlawful detainer evictions” to include additional activities “associated” with the property, including the activities of suspected sex workers, gambling, and the possession of certain ammunition. The amendments specifically call out sex workers, specifying that the city can force a tenant’s eviction for “making contacts on the premises with ‘Johns’ and prostitutes for prostitution activity off-premises,” and for keeping their earnings on the premises. Other aspects of the legislation remain murky, such as what burden of proof is necessary to make evictions.
Tying evictions to suspicion is a dangerous road, and is sure to lead to profiling vulnerable tenants and marginalized populations who may or may not be involved in nuisance activities. The city will provide the landlord with information about the tenant’s alleged crimes, but the evidence is not released unless it is requested by the tenant or landlord.
Absent the right to due process, Oakland’s transition-aged current and former foster youth, particularly those who are or have been victims of commercial sexual exploitation, are ripe targets for these types of discriminatory housing practices. Victims need treatment, services, and a safe place to live; not homelessness.
An unfortunate truth is that the rate of commercial sexual exploitation amongst youth who have been removed from their homes as a result of abuse or neglect and placed into foster care is unsettling. Through confounding factors of complex trauma, lack of consistent parental figures or role models, limited housing and financial support options as young adults and, perhaps, the simple desire to be loved, exploiters prey on youth living in group and foster homes and runaway youth. They also specifically target youth as they transition out of the foster care system.
According to Alex Volpe, Regional Director of housing and mental health services provider Bay Area Youth Center-Sunny Hills Services (BAYC-SHS), 40 percent of the center’s female-identified clients in September of 2014 were identified as survivors of commercial sexual exploitation. “Research to Action: Sexually Exploited Minors Needs and Strengths”, a 2012 study by WestCoast Children’s Clinic, found that 75 percent of youth who had been victims of commercial sexual exploitation described having experienced child abuse or neglect.
Even with the extension of foster care to age 21 in California, it is no secret that young people aging out of the foster care system have challenges ahead as they transition into adulthood. Living in the Bay Area with a soaring rental market, housing is a challenge for middle-aged adults with solid income.
For young adults transitioning out of the foster care system and for current foster youth ages 18 to 21 charged with finding their own housing, identifying and securing housing is an increasingly difficult task, yet a basic need and mandatory first step to achieving stability. According to the John Burton Foundation’s “THP-Plus & THP-Plus Foster Care Annual Report 2013-14”, of the former foster youth ages 18 to 23 who entered transitional housing over Fiscal Year 2013-14 in California, 53 percent had experienced homelessness between exiting foster care and entering a transitional housing program.
Transition-aged youth are already challenged with an ageist rental market where, as tenants, they are viewed as a risk. At an age where youth from in-tact families have a home to fall back on and where youth from middle- and upper-class families can benefit from their parent’s credit history through co-signing on leases, transition-aged current and former foster youth are left out in the cold trying to secure viable housing they can afford.
The amended NEO has potentially devastating consequences for vulnerable young adults who are victims of exploiters, and for transition-aged youth who may be profiled or stereotyped by landlords looking to fill their units with higher paying tenants, or who fear legal action from the city for failing to evict a tenant engaged in nuisance activities. For more information about the amended NEO, download the text from the amended ordinance, or follow SF Weekly’s coverage of the issue.
Simone Tureck is the executive director of the Foster Youth Alliance.