A legal challenge to the Annapolis Housing Authority's practice of banning people from the public agency's residential complexes was settled Friday, leading to a new policy on how the agency will deal with people it doesn't want on its grounds.
Deborah Jeon, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, said she was pleased that the organization, on behalf of tenants, was "able to achieve our goal of reforming the policy."
For years, tenants had complained that their relatives were not allowed to visit under a "banning list" that was easy to get on and hard to get off, with vague policies and procedures. Tenants said that parents were separated from children, family gatherings could not take place and grandparents walked blocks to wait for relatives to pick them up for medical appointments and shopping trips, and that the policy violated their constitutional rights.
Overall, under the new policy, some people who were banned can be allowed on the grounds if a tenant designates them as guests and assumes responsibility for them. But people convicted of serious and violent crimes remain banned.
"This involves violent criminals rather than minor offenses such as drinking on public property, littering, that sort of thing. We reached an agreement that we all wanted rape, assault, drug dealing banned," said Carl O. Snowden, head of the housing authority's board. "You now must be banned for what you have been convicted of, not on allegations."
But while not banning people for nonviolent, nondrug- related misdemeanors, the housing authority will consider civil actions against some troublemakers. People who damage or deface housing authority property could face civil lawsuits, Snowden said.
Under the law, the housing authority is liable for up to $200,000 per lawsuit. Given that individuals could file separate suits on the banning practices, the authority settled, he said. In this case, 13 people filed a single lawsuit.
A source with knowledge of the case indicated that the housing authority's settlement with the tenants was for about $100,000, though the figure was not publicly disclosed. Some of that will go toward legal fees.
The city of Annapolis, which was also a party to the suit, agreed to pay $20,000, to be shared by the plaintiffs and the ACLU, Jeon said.
City officials had no comment Friday, said spokesman Phill McGowan.
Tenants had complained in 2008 to the state attorney general's office, where Snowden, as head of the civil rights office and not on the housing board at the time, asked the housing board to review its banning practices. As board members said they were examining their policy, the lawsuit was filed in August 2009. Some board members defended the banning practice, saying many tenants supported it as an effective way to control troublemakers.
The agreement does not cover the Annapolis Gardens-Bowman Court, Obery Court and College Creek Terrace, because they are privately managed.