Housing Discrimination in Antioch, CA: An Overview

In 2006 and 2007, the major consequences of the subprime mortgage crisis began to manifest themselves throughout the country with numerous foreclosures and devalued mortgages. Houses and apartments were left uninhabited, creating difficult economic circumstances for affected communities–low-income and middle-income families/neighborhoods alike.  Due to the costly nature of foreclosures and the increasing amount of vacant homes and apartments, communities responded by instating housing initiatives that welcomed renters who held vouchers for the Section 8 government-run program that offers subsidized housing to low-income families that qualify.  The Section 8 program often encourages its recipients to take advantage of offers for homes and apartments in more middle-class, suburban neighborhoods.  As Section 8 voucher-holders began to move into these neighborhoods, renting from local landlords and property-owners who had mounting foreclosures on their hands, long-time residents of these communities became increasingly unhappy with the new make-up of their neighborhoods.

The majority of Section 8 subsidized housing vouchers are held by low-income, African-American/Black or Latino families. The recent available housing for voucher holders that are “tenant-based” (meaning, they can choose to rent  homes and apartments in the private sector) has been offered in predominantly white, middle-class suburban areas. Unfortunately, as these two groups have come to meet under dire economic circumstances, tensions have arisen and continue to heat up between new and old residents. Once latent racist, classist, and sexist notions have surfaced through the concerns that long-time residents continue to espouse, quite freely, about the new Section 8 residents “ghettoizing” their neighborhoods and creating a new community landscape that they did not expect or desire.

The city of Antioch, CA is one site of these ever-growing tensions.  Residents continued to complain about nuisances and disturbances in their neighborhoods once Section 8 renters began to settle into vacant homes and apartments–aftereffects of the subprime mortgage crisis. After reporting these “incidences,” they were encouraged by the Antioch Police Department and a special “enforcement” team they created called the Community Action Team (CAT), to find out if the problematic neighbors specifically held Section 8 vouchers. This surveillance and targeting led to various instances of unexpected and unwarranted police searches in the homes of Section 8 renters, many of which were inhabited by black residents.

Recently, several Antioch residents receiving Section 8 subsidies filed a lawsuit (Williams et al. v. City of Antioch) against the Antioch Police Department and CAT, charging the police with racial profiling and discrimination as well as unconstitutional, unwarranted searches in their homes.  The petitioners are being represented by the ACLU of Northern California, Public Advocates Inc., IMPACT Fund, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area.  To accompany the investigations, Barry Krisberg–President of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency–has submitted an in-depth research report addressing the claims that the City of Antioch was specifically targeting Section 8 renters, primarily African-American families. The extensive data that Krisberg collected (which analyzed material from both the Housing Authority and the Police Department) demonstrates the overwhelming influence that race has had on the actions of the Antioch Police Department and CAT.

What is Section 8?

The Section 8 Housing Program is a government program instated to help low-income individuals and families find affordable housing. Recipients are eligible for one of two vouchers; the first is a voucher for public, government housing projects and the second is a voucher for rental options in the private sector.  Once the recipient finds a satisfactory residence, the government subsidizes the rental fee. Certain stipulations and requirements apply; the Public Housing Agencies (that administer Section 8 vouchers) must factor in certain qualities and characteristics of the desired rental unit–surrounding area as well as the residence itself–as well as the price. The ultimate rental price must be fixed by what is called a Fixed Market Rent (FMR), which the landlords that accept Section 8 voucher holders must abide by as well as the Public Housing Agencies.

In addition to the governmental stipulations laid out by the Section 8 program, landlords are allowed to refuse to rent apartments or houses to Section 8 recipients, if they so choose.  Therefore, limits on potential housing for voucher holders are increased by intangible or immeasurable factors such as racism or classism–where landlords in particular neighborhoods might harbor particular preservationist ideals for the community context.  Thus, when rentals open up in places like Antioch, CA, in suburban, middle-class neighborhoods, the situation becomes complicated by various factors. The subprime mortgage crisis led to unprecedented numbers of foreclosures. Vacant homes and apartments are extremely costly for a city, state, and the country in general. Therefore, landlords who might normally refuse to rent to Section 8 recipients feel pressured by the economic downturn and loss of income and, in turn, feel forced to offer their units to subsidized housing voucher holders. This kind of situation can generate a hostility toward the Section 8 renters from their own landlords, and subsequently, from their surrounding neighbors. Preconceived notions about the “type of people” that receive housing vouchers are reinforced.

For more information on the Section 8 Housing Program, visit the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) website at http://www.hud.gov.

The Antioch Community Action Team

The Antioch Police Department created what is called the Community Action Team in July 2006 after the initial influx of Section 8 voucher holders moved into the Antioch area and long-time residents began to feel “threatened” by the growing presence of low-income, African-American/Black families. CAT declares that its establishment was a response to community requests for greater police presence and law enforcement in the face of escalating violent crime in Antioch neighborhoods. In truth, CAT has come to represent a very real threat to the families targeted by their actions, subjected to random visits and unwarranted searches that violate the Constitutional rights of these individuals.

In their published “Fact Sheet,” CAT claims that “it is committed to listening to everyone involved in neighborhood issues, not just those making the complaint,” but according to Section 8, primarily black families–who are now suing the Antioch Police Department and CAT–the team has become a discriminatory surveillance mechanism that both encourages neighborhood, civilian surveillance and utilizes disturbing tactics themselves to target and harass Section 8 households.

As an example of how community leaders tackle the “problem” of unruly neighbors that move into suburban middle-class neighborhoods and “disturb” the peace, the mayor of a suburb in Illinois wrote this on his community blog: “What I would encourage homeowners who are having legitimate issues with “any of their neighbors” is to contact the village. While we are unable to go into a house without being invited (not likely) we can bring pressure to bear with parking enforcement, property maintenance issues that are not being addressed. Contact the Building Department using this link. (An email will pop up). Code enforcement of parking, mowing, and general cleanliness can be very powerful towards fixing these types of issues. If there is a loud party or something going on that is not appropriate call the Police, this is how you do it… Dial 911.” (Mayor’s blog)

One of the Antioch residents interviewed for this GritTV episode, Willie Mims of the Black Political Association, voiced his opinions about CAT openly in the interview: “…Especially when they formed this CAT Team, which I renamed the Community Action Terror Team, and I told them at the city council that they need to change the name. Because the CAT Team was terrorizing these, these ladies who were on Section 8. You know, when you wake up in the morning and look out your window, not to see if there is a criminal out there, but looking to see if the police were out there. I mean, that’s the level of intimidation and threat that the police had on these ladies” (Interview, 3 October 2009, Antioch, CA; referring to the single-parent, female headed households that receive Section 8 housing vouchers and that are continually targeted by CAT).

The Lawsuit: Williams et al. v. City of Antioch

In July 2008, several Section 8 residents of Antioch, CA filed a lawsuit against the City of Antioch and their discriminatory and unconstitutional actions, carried out primarily by the Community Action Team.  The plaintiffs are being represented by attorneys from the ACLU of Northern California, Public Advocates Inc., IMPACT Fund, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. Preliminary investigations on the targeting of Section 8 families in Antioch, CA were conducted and a subsequent report was released by Public Advocates Inc. and Bay Area Legal Aid (BayLegal) in December of 2007. The findings showed that Section 8 renters in the community and overwhelmingly African-American/Black families were hassled by police and their community neighbors–long-time residents of Antioch suburbs.  The report attempted to address the unjust practices of the Antioch Police Department by prescribing different community measures that would help to integrate the new Section 8 renters, rather than estrange and isolate them by reporting them to the police on a consistent basis. In addition, the report included recommendations for how to reform CAT practices, imploring them to focus on criminal activities rather than non-criminal complaints from neighbors.

Despite the efforts of Public Advocates Inc. and BayLegal, CAT and the Antioch Police Department did not reform their procedures or tactics. Residents in Section 8 housing were compelled to file a class action suit in order challenge the continuous of unjust targeting and discrimination.

Links of Interest

ACLU’s Case description (filed complaint included at bottom of description)
Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice–reports that crime in Antioch has not increased significantly
NY times article–useful background information
Report from Public Advocates Inc.
Article from Race Equality Project of Legal Services of Northern CA


Did you know?

  • Single-parent families with female heads are some of the poorest in the country, and therefore represent a significant portion of families receiving Section 8 vouchers.  The number of homeless women in the United States is growing to devastating heights. Social programs and community awareness/action are lacking in addressing this fact, only working with the problem instead of against it, instead of looking at the root issues and intersectionalities (i.e. gender, race, class) and how to properly chip away at the institutionalization of these formations.
  • Women who experience domestic violence and possess housing vouchers are often threatened with eviction or the removal of their eligibility for subsidized housing by the police and landlords; they are charged with “violations” of the housing voucher stipulations, for having a part-time resident that is unaccounted for, rather than aided by community “protectors” concerning the domestic violence report. Thus, patterns of domestic violence are never addressed properly; the victims are doubly punished and rarely receive the proper treatment that should be provided after a domestic violence incident.
  • Antioch community members created an organization called the United Citizens for Better Neighborhoods, in response to the alleged increase in crimes and nuisances since Section 8 renters moved into Antioch neighborhoods. On their website, they include a comprehensive list of Section 8 rental listings, both those in which Section 8 voucher-holders are residing as well as residences willing to accept Section 8 vouchers.  http://www.ucbn.us/Antioch%202008.htm


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