DOJ Announces $2M Settlement in L.A. County Fair Housing Case

The Justice Department recently announced a $2 million settlement with the Housing Authority of Los Angeles County, and the cities of Lancaster, Calif., and Palmdale, Calif., to resolve allegations that they 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, according to the Justice Department.

In its complaint, the Justice Department alleged that between 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 the housing authorities and sheriff’s department in a targeted campaign of discriminatory enforcement against African-American voucher holders to discourage and exclude them and other African Americans from living in the cities.

Allegedly, city officials contracted with the housing authority for additional investigative services and devoted substantial financial resources to voucher program enforcement efforts, directed and encouraged deputies to become involved in the enforcement effort, 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, according to the Justice Department.

The complaint alleged that the housing authority and sheriff’s department used their resources to carry out 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.

The public housing agency, which 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 a previous settlement with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for related conduct, there will be a total of $2.6 million available to compensate individuals harmed by the alleged discrimination.

The department estimates that hundreds of African-American voucher holders were subjected to the defendants’ discriminatory conduct, including many of the approximately 200 who were interviewed in the course of the department’s investigation. In addition, many will be eligible to have voucher terminations removed from their public housing record, and a few 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,” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division, said in a statement. “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.”