11/23/2011 10:03 am ET Updated Nov 23, 2011

ACLU Calls On Chicago Housing Authority To Stop Drug Testing Mixed-Income Residents

The ACLU of Illinois is calling on the Chicago Housing Authority to end its practice of drug testing residents of its mixed-income public housing units.

WBEZ reports that the ACLU has sent a letter to Charles Woodyard, the CHA's CEO, urging that the drug testing of those living in the agency's developments without suspicion "violates federal and state constitutional guarantees of freedom of unreasonable searches and seizures."

The CHA made a push this summer for mandatory drug testing for all adults living in or applying for public housing though its agency. After receiving a "tremendous amount of feedback," they chose to change course and not implement the testing. But the practice has continued for residents who live in some of the agency's mixed-income developments.

In a previous letter addressing the issue in June, ACLU of Illinois's legal director Harvey Grossman argued to the CHA that when done without individualized suspicion, drug testing "creates a presumption of guilt that can only be rebutted by a negative test result."

Grossman continued:

..drug testing as a condition of residency in public housing would create an unfair double standard. People from all across Chicago who rent their residences in the private sector, most of whom are middle and upper income, are not required to take a drug test. On the other hand, poor people in Chicago who rent public housing from the CHA would be required to take a drug test. Yet social science research shows that low income persons do not use or abuse illegal drugs at rates significantly higher than persons in other income groups.

Myra King, who chairs the CHA's Central Advisory Council of tenant leaders, called the original testing proposal as a "slap in the face at a meeting in May, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

"CHA says they're doing this plan to make us privy to the same standards as any other citizen in any other community," King said. "If that's true, why are we the only citizens to be drug tested?"

The ACLU claims that data from CHA on how many of their public housing residents have tested positive for drug use backs up that claim. As WBEZ reports, of some 1,600 adult public housing residents living in mixed-income developments, only 51 have tested positive in the last several years.

The tests have had a dire impact on public housing residents found to be in possession of drugs. According to the Chicago Reporter, more than 70 percent of the one-strike evictions from the developments have stemmed from drug possession. In total, 76 percent of all one-strike evictions in 2010 were a result of misdemeanor charges being filed against a public housing resident, as compared to 40 percent only five years before. The arrests have disproportionately involved black teens and men living in Chicago's 2nd and 27th wards, two areas of the city that are quickly gentrifying.

Photo by Payton Chung via Flickr.