Chicago resident Joseph Peery is filing a lawsuit with the ACLU against the Chicago Housing Authority, claiming that annual drug tests for public housing are a violation of the Fourth Amendment.
Peery has to submit a drug test to the Chicago Housing Authority once a year in order to live in his apartment. He lives in a mixed-income housing development in the north side of the city. Mixed-income developments are privately owned and operated housing complexes in which public housing tenants live alongside tenants who pay discounted rates and market rates.
Although the housing complex is privately owned, the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) collects an annual drug test from tenants when the time comes to renew their lease. All tenants, even those without subsidized rent rates, are forced to take the test.
But Perry has a problem with the testing policy, which he says is only implemented because of the public housing tenants that inhabit the complex. He and the ACLU argue that the policy violates tenants’ protections from unreasonable searches, seizures, and invasions of privacy under the Fourth Amendment.
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“The reason they’re doing this is because of the stigma of the CHA renters,” ACLU lawyer Adam Schwartz said. “If they weren’t trying to get the CHA renters, they wouldn’t be doing it to any renters.”
The CHA has defended their policy, saying that all renters are tested regardless of whether they are public housing tenants or not.
“One of the requirements of renters is that they follow property rules. And if those rules happen to include drug testing, then public housing families – like their market-rate and affordable neighbors – must adhere to those rules.”
The ACLU isn’t buying that logic. ACLU attorney Karen Sheeley recently spoke on why the testing policy violates the Fourth Amendment.
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“There’s no question that being forced to urinate into a cup, hand over the urine and have it tested by the government is a search that can violate the Fourth Amendment,” Sheeley said. “In this instance, the government would have to come up with a really good reason for why Mr. Peery’s privacy and all the other CHA tenants’ privacy would be violated. We just don’t think they have a reason that justifies it.”
The CHA is the only public housing authority in the nation that drug tests its tenants. Not all CHA tenants are subject to testing, however. The policy is only applied to tenants in the mixed-income housing developments. The CHA considered applying the policy to all of its tenants, but the move was nixed after heavy public resistance. At the time, then-CHA head chairmen James Reynolds said the policy “was kind of close to violating civil rights.”
Peery does not do drugs, has never failed a drug tests, and has spent over a decade working on drug-use prevention programs in Chicago.
“There [are] secretaries there and people walking in and paying rent and I’m handed a cup,” Peery said. “You’re literally sitting there with this cup on your lap with people walking in like why is this guy sitting there with a cup of urine on his lap? I haven’t done a crime. Why am I made to feel like this?
“It’s humiliating, embarrassing, stigmatizing, and it’s unfair. It needs to end.”