Tacoma Housing Authority’s meth policy protects the public

The News TribuneSeptember 5, 2013 

Taxpayers can applaud the Tacoma Housing Authority’s tough policy on meth. It’s tough on meth makers and tough on meth users.

When the THA is informed that a tenant in one of its 1,400 units has been arrested or implicated in connection with meth use, it triggers a test of that person’s unit by a private company overseen by the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. (Units also are tested when tenants move out.) Should the unit test above the state safety level, it is “red-tagged” as required by state law and the tenant evicted so that the unit can be decontaminated.

The units of six tenants evicted recently all tested many times higher than the safety limit. One tenant had been arrested for selling meth; the other five were named as having bought the drug. The evicted tenants can appeal to an independent hearing examiner for a quick decision. If it’s determined that they are not at fault, they will be relocated to another unit.

THA officials have been surprised by the extent of the meth problem in their units. Since testing began 18 months ago, 110 units have been red-tagged out of 240 that were tested.

Of the tenants evicted, only one went to a hearing examiner, who upheld the THA action. In another case, THA officials determined that an evicted tenant was not at fault; that person was relocated. Three of the tenants evicted last week have asked for a hearing.

The THA takes a tough approach to meth for several reasons. For one thing, it has to under state health law and if it wants to continue receiving federal funding — which is also why it has a zero-tolerance policy on marijuana use in its units even though Washington voters approved legalization of pot for recreational use.

But there’s another, even more important reason for meth abuse to be cause for eviction: the health and safety of other residents and THA staff.

Meth contamination can be harmful to children in many ways, by poisoning them and affecting their brain development, for instance. It can sicken visitors to affected units. If someone is making meth in a THA unit, it could explode and endanger neighbors’ lives.

Another consideration: A housing development that starts getting the reputation as a place to score meth can attract other problems, including guns, violence, gangs and prostitution.

Meth contamination is costly to clean up — up to $25,000 per unit. Although the THA tries to get evicted tenants to pay for the cleanup if they appear to have the means, that’s rarely the case. So the cost is one that taxpayers pick up through their subsidy of public housing.

The THA’s housing is at a premium, with thousands of people waiting an average of five years for it. Residents unwilling to abide by its zero-tolerance drug rules should be replaced by ones who are drug-free.

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