PALMDALE – Civil rights organizations suing Lancaster and Palmdale over its treatment of Section 8 tenants held a press conference Thursday to celebrate a recent victory for their cause – a settlement agreement with Los Angeles County, which bars deputies from riding along on Section 8 compliance checks and prevents the cities from receiving additional housing investigators for at least three years. (Read details of the settlement agreement here.)
“It’s a day to rejoice that Lancaster and Palmdale will no longer be able to harass Black and Latino families in the Antelope Valley,” said Maria Palomares, attorney for Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles.
“By entering into this agreement, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and Housing Authority are taking a major first step towards preventing racial discrimination and restoring opportunity to more than 11,000 people who rely on the Section 8 program in the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale,” said V. Jesse Smith of the Community Action League (TCAL).
The settlement agreement, approved by the Board of Supervisors Tuesday, was the County’s response to a lawsuit filed in June 2011, by the NAACP, TCAL, and three Section 8 tenants, claiming Black and Latino families using Section 8 housing vouchers in Lancaster and Palmdale are victims of constant, unbearable harassment at the hands of housing authority investigators, sheriff’s deputies and local politicians. Read the complaint here.
“The rhetoric of both cities against Section 8 is to reduce the total number of Section 8 participants in the city. That has nothing to do with fraud, that has everything to do with discrimination and keeping people, based on class status, out of the city. That’s what this lawsuit seeks to end,” said Catherine Lhamon, attorney for Public Counsel. “That rhetoric is absolutely unacceptable and is the absolute worst kind of racial steering that has been unlawful for more than 50 years.”
The County was not named in the lawsuit because County officials agreed to address the allegations before the lawsuit was brought forth.
“The County elected to ensure that it is not a party to discrimination any more,” said Lhamon.
In contrast, city leaders have spread propaganda that preys on the worst fears of people to pit the community against Section 8 tenants, according to Darren Parker, Chairman of the Antelope Valley Human Relations Commission.
“It’s divide and conquer at its simplest form,” Parker said.
Parker said Section 8 tenants are probably some of the Antelope Valley’s better residents based on the number of hoops they must jump through to qualify for the program.
“I think some of our municipality leadership took the opportunity to negatively stereotype people in order to further their cause of ridding the two cities of Section 8,” Parker said
The groups say the settlement agreement with the County is a step in the right direction, but now the cities must do their part.
“We call on the cities to come forward to take the same great actions that the county took to resolve these issues, put them behind us, and move forward as one community,” said Lhamon. “The lawsuit that we filed in June 2011 against the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale was directly aimed at ending the practices of racial discrimination in the two cities against participants in the Section 8 Fair Housing Choice Voucher Program. That lawsuit continues because those practices in those two cities have not yet ended.”