LANCASTER/ PALMDALE – Deputies can no longer ride along on Section 8 compliance checks, law enforcement can no longer know which homes are Section 8 homes, and there will be no extra Section 8 housing investigators for Lancaster and Palmdale. This according to the details of a proposed settlement agreement approved late Tuesday by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
The settlement is the County’s response to a federal lawsuit against the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale, which claims Black and Latino families using Section 8 housing vouchers are victims of constant, unbearable harassment at the hands of housing authority investigators, sheriff’s deputies and local politicians. Read the complaint here.
The County is not named in the lawsuit, but only because County officials agreed to negotiate in good faith before the lawsuit was brought forth, according to plaintiff attorney Maria Palomares.
“We sent demand letters to the County, the city of Lancaster, and the city of Palmdale before we actually filed the lawsuit,” said Palomares. “The Housing Authority and the Sheriff’s Department, both represented by the County, came to us and said ‘we would like to talk to see how we can resolve this,’ and we’ve been in ongoing discussions since then.”
She said they were not able to achieve the same dialog with the cities.
“The City of Lancaster created the Section 8 Commission and tried to use their business license as a way to limit the number of Section 8 tenants that were coming into the City,” Palomares said. “So for their actions, this lawsuit is still very much alive and moving forward.”
The County’s proposed settlement does not affect the racial discrimination lawsuit against Lancaster and Palmdale. The settlement must be approved by the federal court, which Palomares anticipates will happen within the next two weeks.
“It’s rare that a judge would ever disapprove a settlement,” she said. “We really look forward to it being approved by the judge so it can go into effect and there can be oversight by the judicial court. That way this would be more than just words on paper. The cities can start to heal and welcome Black and Latino families.”
The settlement was approved by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on a 4-1 vote, with Supervisor Michael Antonovich opposed. The settlement agreement includes the following provisions:
The County will not fund additional investigators. Currently, there are three housing investigators responsible for ensuring Section 8 compliance in Los Angeles County. Since 2005, Lancaster and Palmdale have had agreements with the County, which provide for additional housing investigators in the Antelope Valley. These investigators were employed by the County Housing Authority but paid for out of City and Fifth District funds. The County previously suspended these agreements in the wake of the lawsuit, and now they will stop altogether. The County Housing Authority cannot enter into any agreements with the cities of Lancaster or Palmdale for additional housing investigators for least three years.
Section 8 participants cannot be identified. The Housing Authority agreed not to provide identifying information about Section 8 participants (i.e. a Section 8 participant’s or landlord’s name or address) to any public entities outside of HUD. This means law enforcement will no longer know which homes are Section 8 homes.
Deputies cannot accompany housing investigators in conducting Section 8 compliance checks. Except in cases where the investigator documents a legitimate threat to his or her safety, deputies will not be allowed on Section 8 compliance checks. If the investigator documents a threat to safety, the investigator must get approval from senior Housing Authority officials and the local Sheriff’s station’s watch commander to allow for a deputy to go on a compliance check. In those cases, no more than one deputy will be assigned to the housing compliance check and the deputy must remain outside the home unless given separate consent to enter.
Housing investigators cannot terminate Section 8 in the field. New investigations protocol will be developed, which will no longer allow housing investigators to issue proposed Section 8 terminations in the field. Rather, the housing investigator’s report will be reviewed by an analyst, and only the analyst may recommend termination, which must then be approved by a senior Housing Authority officer.
There will be a hotline for Section 8 recipients to report discrimination. The Housing Authority will publicize a hotline number that Section 8 recipients can call to report incidents of racial or ethnic discrimination. This number will directly connect callers to attorneys in the Section 8 lawsuit. The Housing Authority must also provide all Section 8 participants with notice at least twice a year that the purpose of the Section 8 program is to enable participants to choose to live where they wish.
News of the settlement agreement was met with jubilation from community groups involved in the lawsuit and outrage from at least one City leader.
“The agreement sends a strong message that the Antelope Valley is one community and everyone belongs here,” said V. Jesse Smith, of the Community Action League.
The Community Action League and the NAACP, both plaintiffs in the lawsuit, will hold a press conference Thursday to discuss community reaction to the settlement.
In contrast, Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris called the proposed settlement outrageous. Read more here.