LITTLEROCK – Representatives from the Department of Justice held a community meeting at the Living Stone Cathedral of Worship in Littlerock on Wednesday to notify Section 8 voucher holders in the Antelope Valley that they may be eligible for monetary relief as part of the recent $2.7 million housing discrimination settlement.
Only a handful of people attended the information session, so DOJ representatives stressed the importance of spreading the word to others in the community to participate in future interviews that seek to qualify individuals for possible compensation.
According to Katie Ladewski, an attorney with the Civil Rights Division for U.S. Department of Justice, the housing-related settlement includes a total of $2,675,000 that stems from two different lawsuits – one with the County of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department; and the other with the Housing Authority of the County of Los Angeles (HACoLA) and the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale.
“The Fair Housing Act includes the provision to provide monetary relief to people who are victims of housing discrimination – which is something we sought in the settlement,” Ladewski told locals at Wednesday’s meeting. “And that will be distributed to people who meet certain criteria.”
She said the monetary compensation is available to past and current voucher holders, who may also qualify for housing expungements to remove past terminations from the Section 8 program.
The DOJ has negotiated, as part of the settlement, the ability to reinstate voucher holder families terminated from the program. (Read more on the settlement agreement here.)
Ladewski outlined the general criteria for receiving monetary compensation from the settlement. To be eligible, Section 8 voucher holders:
- Must be part of an African-American household;
- Must have participated in the Section 8 program between January 2004 and July 2011, while living in Lancaster or Palmdale; and
- Must have experienced a “field compliance check” (that is, a housing inspection to determine if a household was in compliance with Section 8 rules) or received an on-the-spot termination from the housing authority between January 2004 and July 2011.
Ladewski also said that voucher holders may be eligible for additional compensation if the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department participated in their compliance check. The DOJ attorneys cautioned that there are exceptions to the compensation requirements and not everyone who had a compliance check or received an on-the-spot termination will receive compensation.
Carrie Pagnucco, also an attorney with the Civil Rights Division for the DOJ, provided a quick legal overview to participants, saying the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s lawsuit covered issues such as misconduct and unconstitutional policing, while the lawsuit against the Housing Authority and the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale involved an unnecessary enforcement scheme against Section 8 voucher holders.
“We also achieved a number of policy reforms that we are really excited about because we think it will change these institutions and make sure that this kind of discrimination we found in our investigation will not happen to anybody else in the Antelope Valley,” she said.
One of the biggest policy changes is the unannounced compliance checks, according to Pagnucco.
“It targeted African Americans, and the housing authority was not engaging in this kind of conduct anywhere else,” she said. “They’ve already stopped doing it now for a couple of years, and they’ve committed to cease those compliance checks for another six years. They don’t need to arrive at someone’s house unannounced and do these kinds of searches. There are other ways to make sure that voucher holders are following the rules.”
The attorneys told the few people gathered that the DOJ needs to talk with potential candidates for monetary relief by January or February of 2016.
The Justice Department plans to continuing working with local organizations like The Community Action League and the Antelope Valley NAACP to reach as many eligible voucher holders as possible.
“We have spoken to a lot of people previously through our investigation, and we’re reaching back out to those people as well,” Pagnucco said, noting that staff will also work with the housing authority to reach out to individuals via mailing addresses and other contact information.
“Please pass this on to anybody you think would be interested, anyone who may be affected,” she said. “When you’re talking to friends, neighbors, or anyone you come into contact with, please share this information about the relief that is available to individuals.”
The Department of Justice is asking interested participants to contact them as soon as possible by leaving a voicemail message at 1-800-896-7743, mailbox 98, or by emailing their inquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org. The department will contact participants to schedule a phone interview.
DOJ attorneys will host another information session Thursday, Sept. 17, from 6 to 7:30 p.m., at the Growing Valley Baptist Church, located at 44818 20th Street West in Lancaster. The information session will be held as part of the Antelope Valley NAACP’s general membership meeting.
About the authorJim Winburn is a Los Angeles area news writer, sharing samples of his work at JimmyNewser.com. –
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