Collateral Damage: A Public Housing Consequences of the 'War on Drugs'

5 UC Irvine Law Review 783 (2015)

32 Pages Posted: 2 May 2016

See all articles by Lahny R. Silva

Lahny R. Silva

Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Date Written: 2015


Often automatic upon a conviction, collateral consequences work to relegate individuals to the status of second-class citizen by the systematic deprivation of opportunity in all aspects of life. Shockingly, these penalties are not aimed solely at ex-offenders. Individuals arrested frequently are denied access to opportunity by virtue of their interaction with the criminal justice system. In the context of public housing, even an arrest is not required for the imposition of collateral consequences. Instead, a public housing agency employee, without having to satisfy any statutorily mandated burden of proof, may make a determination that a household member or guest has engaged in “drug-related criminal activity,” terminate the household from public housing assistance, and subsequently evict the family.

This Article hopes to add to the existing scholarship and advocacy regarding exclusionary federal housing policies. It is meant not only to supplement the collateral-consequences literature by identifying and examining additional issues in the administration of federal housing policy, but also to draw attention to the inequities inherent in the current system. More specifically, this Article explores federal termination policies and the way in which they are administered by local public housing authorities (PHAs). I argue that federal law grants an unwarranted amount of discretion to PHAs in assessing cause for exclusion from the program and also fails to provide sufficient statutory and regulatory guidance in the enforcement of PHA lease agreements. Reviewing alleged “drug-related criminal activity” lease violations through a criminal law lens may assist PHAs in making appropriate termination decisions. With this, I recommend that a framework be established requiring PHAs to meet a statutorily mandated burden of proof prior to a “drug-related criminal activity” termination. This standard ought to focus on such activity through a criminal law frame.

Keywords: Reentry, collateral consequences of conviction, civil death, public housing

Suggested Citation

Silva, Lahny R, Collateral Damage: A Public Housing Consequences of the 'War on Drugs' (2015). 5 UC Irvine Law Review 783 (2015) , Available at SSRN: or

Lahny R Silva (Contact Author)

Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law ( email )

530 West New York Street
Indianapolis, IN 46202
United States

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