LOS ANGELES – The Housing Authority of Los Angeles County will pay about $2 million to resolve allegations of Section 8 housing discrimination in the Lancaster and Palmdale areas as part of a settlement announced Monday involving the cities, county and federal officials.
As part of the settlement, some people who lost their Section 8 housing vouchers over alleged discriminatory enforcement practices targeting black residents will be reinstated into the program, according to the Department of Justice.
The parties will enter into a court-enforceable agreement aimed at ensuring that black voucher holders in the Antelope Valley are not targeted because of their race, federal prosecutors said.
The Housing Authority, which administers the county’s Section 8 voucher program, has agreed to pay $1,975,000 in damages on behalf of itself and the cities, and a $25,000 civil penalty to the United States, according to the DOJ.
When combined with the DOJ’s previously announced settlement with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for related conduct, this means that a total of $2,675,000 is available to compensate people who were harmed by discriminatory enforcement of the voucher program, officials said.
“Housing choice vouchers, also known as Section 8 vouchers, are meant to help families find homes in neighborhoods that provide greater opportunities for them and their children,” said Vanita Gupta, head of the DOJ’s civil rights division. “Such families should be welcomed in every community, including those in the Antelope Valley. No family living in Los Angeles County should fear having housing authority or law enforcement personnel show up at their homes simply because they are African-American and use vouchers to pay their rent.”
U.S. Attorney: “This type of discrimination is fundamentally wrong…”
The Justice Department’s complaint, filed in federal court in Los Angeles, alleges that between the years 2004 and 2011, in direct response to racially based public opposition to the growing presence of black voucher holders living in Lancaster and Palmdale, the cities teamed with the housing authority and sheriff’s department in a targeted campaign of discriminatory enforcement against black voucher holders to discourage them from living in the cities.
“This type of discrimination is fundamentally wrong and is inconsistent with American values of freedom and equality,” said U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “This settlement, together with an earlier settlement with the sheriff’s department, will ensure it does not recur, and will also provide more than $2.6 million to compensate those harmed.”
Pursuant to the agreement announced Monday, the Housing Authority of Los Angeles County will undertake reforms to its voucher program enforcement protocol, and will cease, for at least six years, the use of unannounced field compliance checks. The Housing Authority also will not share personal information about voucher holders with any third party, including LASD or the cities.
Lancaster and Palmdale have agreed to enforce their ordinances and process complaints in a way that treats voucher holders and their landlords no differently from other renters and landlords, federal officials said. Each city will develop procedures for handling discrimination complaints, and have agreed not to seek identifying information regarding voucher holders. Each city will implement a fair and affordable marketing plan to make clear that the cities are open to all regardless of race, and each will designate a person or entity to oversee compliance and receive complaints of alleged discrimination, among other things, according to federal officials.
Employees of both cities and the Housing Authority of Los Angeles County are required to participate in fair-housing training to prevent discriminatory conduct in the future.
The victim compensation process
The DOJ estimates that hundreds of African-American voucher holders were subjected to discriminatory conduct, including many of the approximately 200 who were interviewed in the course of the department’s investigation.
The agreement announced Monday outlines a process for compensating victims. This process may take a year or longer.
African-American voucher holders who believe they may have been discriminated against by the Housing Authority of Los Angeles County, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and/or the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale during a compliance check in the Antelope Valley between 2004 and 2011 should contact the Justice Department at 1-800-896-7743, option 98, or email the department at email@example.com.
Response from the City of Palmdale
In a news release Monday, Palmdale city officials said the settlement terms called for Palmdale to file a series of reports relating to housing ordinances and business licensing for the next two-and-a-half years, but Palmdale was not required to pay into the restitution fund.
“If anything was done wrong during the inspection process to Palmdale residents, we are thankful that they are being compensated appropriately,” stated Palmdale Communications Manager John Mlynar.
“After five years of intense scrutiny and two lawsuits, we paid nothing in the settlement,” said Palmdale City Attorney Wm. Matthew Ditzhazy. “We have maintained from the beginning that the City of Palmdale did nothing wrong and should never have been dragged into this lawsuit and I think the terms of the settlement reflect that.”
“The entire lawsuit was perplexing,” said Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford. “As a highly integrated community, we have never felt it was ‘time to go to war with Section 8’ as was claimed by others. We have worked long and hard with our community partners such as the Housing Rights Center, AV Youth Build, the Palmdale Dream Center, New Beginnings Outreach, AMCAL Multi Housing, Habitat for Humanity, National CORE, Better Housing Solutions, Newport Pacific, Meta Housing, Paving the Way and others to enhance and improve our housing programs, provide information through outreach, engage our residents by developing our Neighborhood Houses and accompanying programs—-all to create a better Palmdale.”
“The City of Palmdale merely provided financial assistance to HACOLA so that it could adequately perform fraud investigations required under the federal voucher program,” said Assistant City Attorney Noel Doran. “This was a common arrangement in Los Angeles County at the time with cities such as Paramount, Bellflower, and Lancaster providing similar assistance. The City of Palmdale was particularly surprised to be included in the DOJ’s investigation because in 2007, the DOJ itself had provided almost $1.3 million to the Indianapolis Housing Authority to, in part, fund investigators to root out fraud and criminal activity in Section 8 housing. Palmdale is happy to resolve this five year investigation on financial terms that are commensurate with our involvement in the Section 8 program – namely zero.”
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