LANCASTER – Flanked by leaders of the NAACP and The Community Action League, Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris announced Wednesday that the parties have reached an agreement in the Section 8 discrimination lawsuit against Lancaster.
“I’m looking forward to working with these guys, they’re good men and bright men and we seem to want the same things,” Parris said. “It’s quite frankly a lot more productive to play together than to fight.”
The agreement resolves a federal fair housing 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 were victims of constant, unbearable harassment at the hands of housing authority investigators, sheriff’s deputies and local politicians. (Read the entire complaint here).
Though not named in the lawsuit, the County of Los Angeles reached a settlement related to the allegations in January of this year. (Read more here). Palmdale followed about a week later. (Read more here).
At the time, Parris blasted both entities for settling the allegations and vowed that Lancaster would fight the lawsuit all the way to the end. (Read more here, here and here). Both sides continued to attack each other publicly for the better part of the year.
“We painted each other as the devil in the press,” Parris said.
“We had villainized one another to the point where we probably thought we could not heal,” said TCAL Board Member Emmett Murrell. “It was a mistake.”
After a long contentious public battle, both sides finally decided to put their differences aside and talk to each other, Parris said.
“We found that it was far more things we agreed about, than we disagreed,” Parris said. “As mayor, I should have made that phone call and I did not, and I apologize for that.”
“His paradigm has changed and our paradigm has changed, that’s why we’re at this table,” said AV-NAACP President Juan Blanco. “I am pleased and tickled pink that we are here to make this progress.”
According to the terms of the Agreement, which was signed and dated by both parties and their attorneys:
- Lancaster agrees to abide by all federal, state and local laws requiring fair housing opportunities for all people regardless of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin or source of income.
- City officials will not convey a message that Section 8 tenants are not welcome in the city because of their race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin or source of income.
- The city will post a statement on its official website and in city offices stating that Lancaster is committed to fair housing opportunities for all citizens, regardless of race, religion, familial status or source of income.
As part of the Agreement, the city will also create a “Community Working Group” within the next 90 days to promote understanding and cooperation between the parties and city representatives.
The seven-member committee will consist of the mayor and local community leaders from Lancaster and Palmdale who will be chosen by Parris, TCAL and the NAACP.
“Our community needs representation and we believe that this is the first step in beginning that process,” said TCAL Board Member V. Jesse Smith.
The new committee will address several issues, including fair housing, public perception of Section 8 residents, and neighborhood safety, with safety being the primary goal.
In addressing neighborhood safety, Parris said the new committee will help “good people who end up in bad circumstances” to get their records expunged.
“You take people and put a felony rap sheet on them who are not violent people, you guarantee they can’t get a job, and so what do you expect them to do?” Parris said. “We think that it makes everyone safer if we get rid of that obstacle in their lives.”
There are too many young people in the community being charged with felonies, Parris added.
“I want some type of intervening process, and that’s what we’re going to work on with the sheriff’s department, so that people will look at it rationally…” Parris said. “We need to work more at making certain that those people are not put in a system that’s going to turn them ugly.”
“It’s something we’ve already begun moving on,” Murrell said. “The unit you see here has already begun making those things happen and the people we select on the committee will have expertise in that area.”
Both sides said the Agreement is not a settlement; rather, it is a commitment from both parties to work together, despite their differences.
“I don’t think we settled anything… we still disagree about a lot of things,” Parris said, adding that he still disagrees with how the Section 8 program is administered. Even so, the Section 8 program does provide benefits to Lancaster, Parris said.
“Whether the people in this community like it or not, we need that money from Section 8,” Parris said. “Make no mistake about it, 97 percent of the people that are getting Section 8 are benefiting this community.”
Read the entire Agreement here.
(Editor’s Note: In the spirit of sticking to the topic at hand, we removed some of the personal attacks and name calling from the comments section.)