Los Angeles, California - The Justice Department today announced a settlement with the Housing Authority of Los Angeles County (HACoLA), and the cities of Lancaster, California, and Palmdale, California, to resolve allegations that these parties targeted African Americans with discriminatory enforcement of the Section 8 housing choice voucher program.
The parties have agreed to enter into a court-enforceable agreement that will provide broad relief meant to ensure unbiased enforcement of the voucher program so that African-American voucher holders in the Antelope Valley are not targeted because of their race.
HACoLA, a public housing agency that administers the Section 8 voucher program in Los Angeles County, has agreed to pay $1,975,000 in monetary damages on behalf of itself and the cities, and a $25,000 civil penalty to the United States. When combined with the department’s previously announced settlement with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) for related conduct, this means that a total of $2,675,000 is available to compensate individuals who have been harmed by the discriminatory enforcement of the voucher program. In addition, many voucher holders who were discriminated against will be eligible to have voucher terminations removed from their public housing record, and a few of those who were improperly terminated will be reinstated to the voucher program.
“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 head of the Civil Rights Division, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta. “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.”
“Local government officials worked with the Los Angeles County Housing Authority and the Sheriff’s Department to subject African-American families to discriminatory enforcement actions in an effort to discourage them from using Housing Choice vouchers to live in Lancaster and Palmdale,” said U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker of the Central District of California. “This type of discrimination is fundamentally wrong and is inconsistent with American values of freedom and equality. 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.”
The Justice Department’s complaint, filed today in the U.S. District Court of the Central District of California, alleges that between the years 2004 and 2011, in direct response to racially-based public opposition to the growing presence of African-American voucher holders living in Lancaster and Palmdale, the cities initiated and teamed with HACoLA and LASD in a targeted campaign of discriminatory enforcement against African-American voucher holders in order to discourage and exclude them and other African Americans from living in the cities. City officials contracted with HACoLA for additional investigative services and devoted substantial financial resources to voucher program enforcement efforts, directed and encouraged LASD deputies to become involved in HACoLA’s enforcement efforts, fueled public opposition to the voucher program by making disparaging statements about voucher program participants and discouraged landlords from renting to voucher holders. There was no legitimate law enforcement or programmatic justification for these types of extraordinary enforcement efforts.
HACoLA and LASD used their resources to effectuate the cities’ mutual discriminatory goals and to carry out their own discriminatory motives by disproportionately subjecting African-American voucher holders in the cities to more intrusive and intimidating compliance checks and referring those households for termination from the voucher program at greater rates than white voucher holders living in the cities, or any voucher holders living elsewhere in the county of Los Angeles.
Pursuant to the agreement announced today, HACoLA will undertake reforms to its voucher program enforcement protocol, and will cease, for at least six years, the use of unannounced field compliance checks. HACoLA 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. 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. Employees of both cities and HACoLA are required to participate in fair-housing training to prevent discriminatory conduct in the future.