July 01, 2012
California Lawyer: Section 8 Tenants UnwelcomeCalifornia Lawyer | Victoria Schlesinger
Starting in 2007 the housing bust hit Lancaster and neighboring Palmdale especially hard - almost 18 percent of foreclosures in Los Angeles County were occurring in those municipalities, which split a population of roughly 300,000 residents. By the end of 2009 property values there had dropped by half, banks had repossessed more than 14,500 houses, and many sat empty.
The depressed local market, in turn, attracted Section 8 tenants seeking an affordable place to live outside the big city. In 2011 Lancaster alone had 2,233 Section 8 families - roughly 300 more than before the crash. And 84 percent of those families were black or Hispanic.
Lancaster and Palmdale responded aggressively to the newcomers, and sheriff's deputies and county housing inspectors stepped up Section 8 compliance checks. To the tenants, it felt like harassment.
As tensions increased between the cities and voucher holders, residents and a local community organization sought legal help. The Community Action League - along with individual plaintiffs, the Public Counsel Law Center of Los Angeles, and the NAACP - filed a race discrimination lawsuit last year against both Lancaster and Palmdale. (Community Action League v. City of Lancaster, No. 11-CV-4817 (C.D. Cal. filed Jun. 7, 2011).)...
In recent interviews, the mayor contends that Lancaster is the victim of a conspiracy to "dump" Los Angeles's poor into distant suburbs. "This suit was not created by the NAACP - [it was] created by the housing authority," he says. "This was a put-up deal by the County of Los Angeles, with the county counsel, to shut us up. That's all this is."
Not so, says Catherine Lhamon, who is director of impact litigation at Public Counsel. "I'm actually speechless at the suggestion," she said recently. "It certainly would have been unethical if that had happened, and nothing is further from the truth. ... Lancaster thinks the lawsuit is a fake. For me, that is Exhibit A for why Lancaster needs to be sued."
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