About two years ago, Jessica and Kenny moved into a modest home in Granite City, signing a long-term “rent-to-own” lease that would eventually give them the ability to purchase the home outright. Lifelong residents of Granite City, Jessica and Kenny have been in a committed relationship since 2001 and wanted to establish a permanent home for themselves and their three children. And, for a time, they did.
The small house became a haven for the couple, their children and, occasionally, their children’s friends: Jessica and Kenny have always prided themselves on their ability to provide safe space for young people who are facing troubles or have nowhere else to turn. Kenny is a certified foster parent with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, and Jessica sees herself as a mother not just to her own kids but to any of her kids’ friends who seem to need some mothering or just an occasional place to stay.
That commitment to kindness came back to bite them in 2019. That winter, one of their older son’s friends started staying over at their house several days a week. The young man was largely homeless, and (he said) his own mother had passed away. The arrangement didn’t work out: Jessica caught him trying to steal from her, and it eventually came out that many of the things he had told them simply weren’t true—among other things, his mother was still alive. So Jessica and Kenny told him he had to go. Unfortunately, Jessica was not the only person the young man tried to steal from; in May 2019, he committed a burglary at a restaurant in town.
The restaurant burglary got him arrested. In fact, Jessica was the one who turned him in: Finding him in her house after she heard about the burglary, she summoned the police so they could arrest him. He pleaded guilty in short order and was sentenced to probation. For him, the case was over. But for Jessica and Kenny, the saga was just beginning.
A few weeks after the arrest, Jessica saw a local police officer while she was dealing with an unrelated ticket, and the officer expressed surprise that she still lived in her home. “You’re supposed to be evicted,” he said. “I’m the one who’s evicting you.” When Jessica said there had been no eviction notice, the officer promptly announced he would be arresting her landlord for failing to kick her out. About a month later, officers pounded on Jessica’s door looking to serve her landlord with a formal letter ordering him to evict the family.
The source of all the trouble is what Granite City calls its “crime-free” housing ordinance. But the ordinance has little to do with fighting crime: Instead, it expends city resources pushing low-income people like Jessica and Kenny into homelessness while actual criminals are let off with far less punishment. Under the ordinance, private landlords are required (on pain of fines and revocation of their rental license) to evict any tenant upon command if any member of the tenant’s household commits a crime anywhere. And that is true even if, as in Jessica and Kenny’s case, the actual criminal no longer lives in the house.