PALMDALE – The Community Action League (TCAL) on Friday held a press conference outside Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich’s Palmdale office, responding to this week’s announcement of a $2 million settlement in the Antelope Valley Section 8 discrimination case.
The agreement resolves allegations that the Housing Authority of Los Angeles County and the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale “targeted African-American with discriminatory enforcement” of the Section 8 housing choice voucher program, the Justice Department said Monday in announcing the settlement.
Members of the community group applauded the DOJ lawsuit settlement, saying it marks the beginning of a healing process for residents.
“What we started out to do is to change policy in the way that Section 8 deals with African-American,” TCAL co-founder Rev. V. Jesse Smith told reporters. “No longer will there be unannounced compliance checks … No longer will seven or 10 sheriff’s deputies show up at a Section 8 resident home, armed and ready to invade the home. That is now finished.”
As part of the settlement, the Housing Authority agreed to pay $1.97 million in damages on behalf of itself and the two cities. Combined with the previous DOJ settlement with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for related conduct, the total compensation for individuals harmed by discriminatory enforcement of the Section 8 program is $2.67 million.
Many voucher holders who were discriminated against will be eligible to have their voucher terminations removed from their public housing record – while others who were improperly terminated will be reinstated to the voucher program, according to the Justice Department.
TCAL members on Friday also invited Section 8 residents to speak to the media about their past experiences with compliance checks.
Valerie Spencer claims she was left traumatized by an unannounced Section 8 housing check when sheriff’s personnel entered and ransacked her house.
“I was threatened with my child being taken away from me, and I was scared,” she told the media. “I pray that this doesn’t happen to anyone, but unfortunately it happened to me.”
Alberta Jackson spoke about what the settlement means to her as a Section 8 resident of Palmdale.
“This is a victory for me today,” Jackson said. “I had the Palmdale police come into my home, looking around and claiming they had a search warrant for something, but they had no search warrant available – they held me at gunpoint,” she said.
Jackson said she was not out to “demonize” anybody. “I will continue to speak out well within the law,” she said. “We are going to hold these elected officials accountable for allowing these things to happen.”
The city of Palmdale responded to the settlement, saying that it merely provided financial assistance to the Housing Authority to adequately perform fraud investigations required under the federal voucher program.
“After five years of intense scrutiny and two lawsuits, we paid nothing in the settlement,” said Palmdale City Attorney 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 city of Lancaster responded with equal vindication, stating in a press release that the city “unjustly came under fire when the Department of Justice decided to file suit against the municipality for having paid for a portion of investigators when the County of Los Angeles refused to otherwise enforce Section 8 rules.”
“The fact remains that the federal government pursued a witch hunt on our city … on our valley,” Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris said in the new release. “As the mayor and resident of a truly integrated community, I am professionally and personally offended by the baseless allegations the city of Lancaster has been subjected to under the Department of Justice’s authority.”
According to the Justice Department’s complaint, the cities of Palmdale and Lancaster between 2004 and 2011 initiated and teamed with the Housing Authority and the sheriff’s department in a “targeted campaign of discriminatory enforcement against African-American voucher holders in order to discourage and exclude them and other African-American from living in the cities.”
As part of the agreement, the Housing Authority will reform its voucher program enforcement protocol, stopping unannounced field compliance checks for at least six years. Additionally, the Housing Authority has agreed to not share personal information about voucher holders with the sheriff’s department or the two cities.
The Justice Department is asking African-American voucher holders who believe they may have been discriminated against by the Housing Authority, the sheriff’s department, or the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale during a compliance check in the Antelope Valley between 2004 and 2011 to contact them at 1-800-896-7743, option 98, or email the department at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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