The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to extend its moratorium on funding for Section 8 fraud enforcement in Lancaster and Palmdale for 90 days.
The Board made the decision after hearing testimony from nearly a dozen residents. The majority of those who testified spoke in favor of continuing the moratorium. Some vented their frustrations to the Board by relaying stories of harassment and mistreatment at the hands of Section 8 investigators and local law enforcement.
Palmdale resident Pharaoh Mitchell told Supervisors that nearly a dozen deputies, operating under the guise of a Section 8 fraud check, had searched his house for hours. He said when they found no evidence of fraud they called Children’s Services on him.
“Palmdale and the City of Lancaster have been harassing Blacks and Latino residents who are trying to find a better life for themselves and their families,” Mitchell told Supervisors. “I urge you to continue this moratorium and end the harassment and fears of our community members in the Antelope Valley.”
Others said Section 8 investigations had moved beyond fighting fraud and crime and were now an effort to drive out members of the community.
“They’ve launched investigations with tactics to drive Section 8 [tenants] out of their cities so that even if you aren’t terminated from the program, you choose to leave, and if you are terminated wrongly, you are afraid to fight,” said NAACP National Board Member Ron Hasson.
“Lancaster’s mayor has openly referred to a war on more than 3,000 families who participate in the housing choice voucher program and launched an attack on participants and landlords who rented to them,” Lancaster resident Maureen Feller told the Board. “City officials’ actions have turned neighbor against neighbor. We’re one community and everyone belongs here.”
At least one testifier disagreed with the notion that Section 8 fraud investigations were racially motivated attacks by city leaders.
“The city officials do not enforce the rules regarding Section 8; it is the county’s job to oversee that, so these investigators are not directed by city officials,” said Chris Johnson of Antelope Valley Ministry Alliance. “This is not an issue of racism on the part of leadership of Lancaster or Palmdale, and I would tell you that I am pleased to live in a city that is very much committed to each of its citizens.”
Following the testimony, the Board of Supervisors went behind closed doors to decide whether to approve the memoranda of understanding (MOU) for the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale that authorized funding for additional Section 8 fraud investigators in the Antelope Valley.
In June, the Board voted unanimously to place a 90 day moratorium on the MOU’s as a response to a lawsuit filed June 7, 2011. The federal lawsuit was filed against the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale, claiming more than 3,600 Black and Latino families using Section 8 were victims of constant, unbearable harassment at the hands of housing authority investigators, sheriff’s deputies and local politicians.
The Board of Supervisors’ decision Tuesday to extend the moratorium for 90 more days was good news for NAACP President Juan Blanco, who had previously appealed to the Board to continue to postpone funding for Section 8 enforcement until the federal lawsuit was resolved.
“The NAACP is pleased that the Supervisors voted to continue the moratorium on the MOUs between the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale in the hopes of bringing to a settlement the litigation that has been filed,” said Blanco. “We certainly hope that this will improve the progress towards a better and more inclusive community.”