City Council Looking At Background Checks for Subsidized Housing

By Michael Klazema on 8/3/2012

A murder in the community over seven years ago is part of the reason the City Council in Sunnyvale, California is looking into whether they would be allowed to require background checks as part of the qualifying process for subsidized, or below-market-rate (BMR) housing. Gary Swierski of Sunnyvale bought a BMR home and later was charged with murdering his wife. Swierski was arrested in 2011 when his daughter admitted to helping her father with the body of her stepmother. Swierski claims he killed her in self-defense. Sunnyvale city staff says that California penal code will allow some government agencies to conduct background checks, but that authority is not extended to the housing departments of municipalities.

Regardless, the city attorney has recommended that the city council ask permission of the state’s justice department for use of the background check system that is also used for licensing, public agency job seekers, and certification. But city staffers say that legal restrictions prevent the city from using criminal search data provided by the justice department to weed out potential BMR home purchasers. There are also concerns about privacy rights, equal protection, and fair housing. City staffers also reached out to nearby cities also with below-market-rate programs – including Cupertino, San Jose, Mountain View, and Palo Alto – to ascertain if they use background checks as part of their requirements for the program, but none do. Sunnyvale does not sell, own, or develop the BMR homes, but is in charge of workshops assisting applicants with the process for qualifying for BMR housing.

Jim Griffith, a city councilman, says he agrees with the city staff and believes that Sunnyvale should not find itself prejudging those applying for the program. He said that the BMR program is meant to “make it easier for the people in the community” who may not have other means of finding housing. However, councilman and former policeman Jim Davis contends that performing background checks could possibly prevent problems, rather than “prejudging.” Davis said that there should be requirements for eligibility in the program and “you don’t have a right to be a criminal.” Later the council plans to decide on any specifics for implementation of a background check program, if they receive permission from the state.

More city governments are requiring background checks for various reasons, such as for solicitors, as discussed in the recent article Arkansas City is Requiring Background Checks on All Solicitors . Even if you’re not in city government, you should be using regular and ongoing background checks as part of your hiring process. By using a reputable company like, you can be assured you are getting the best and most thorough background check screening techniques available.With access to countless criminal databases nationwide they have many options available, several with instant results. Their Ongoing Criminal Monitoring tool allows you to automatically run a continuous background check against a name and date of birth. You will be notified via email of any new information that may appear on their record. They will run the name for one year and remind you when it is time to renew the monitoring, plus you can remove the name from being monitored at any time. Or try their National Wants and Warrants search. This search will give results within one to two days, and is a nationwide search of local, county, state, and Federal extraditable warrants, and may include misdemeanors or felonies. Most law enforcement agencies contribute to this database.

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