A no-nonsense approach that keeps criminals out

COLUMBIA, 10/23/12 (Beat Byte) -- Crime and criminals have almost vanished from Columbia's Section 8 housing after a new crime-free lease addendum put landlords, renters, and even household guests on notice: commit a crime and you're out.

"All persons living in federally assisted housing deserve to live in safe and crime-free neighborhoods, free from violent and drug-related criminal activity and other crimes that threaten their health, safety, and peaceful enjoyment of their dwelling," the addendum says. Therefore, tenants, family members, and guests under the tenants' control "shall not commit any criminal acts on or off their leased premises."

Part of a tough on crime strategy Columbia Housing Authority(CHA) CEO Phil Steinhaus instituted, the Section 8 crime free lease addendum is part of a contract between CHA, HUD, and local landlords who rent to tenants on the Section 8 rental assistance program.

The addendum has 12 separate clauses prohibiting "all violent crime, all drug-related crime," sexual offenses, arson, robbery, prostitution, domestic assault, and gang activity. It even cracks down on animal abuse.

Crime and Section 8 have prompted controversy in the past. Steinhaus and Columbia Tribune publisher Hank Waters sparred over the issue. "Housing program doesn't breed crime," Steinhaus argued in an October 2008 Trib editorial.

With CHA nominated for a crime-free housing award at this year's
Columbia Landlords Against Crime summit Thursday night, Steinhaus says he's honored. More importantly, he sees the crime free measures as a "basic" obligation. "This is a matter of program integrity and we do not want people living in less than ideal conditions," Steinhaus explained. "Nor will we allow them to violate their Section 8 family obligations or the obligations of their lease."