Press Releases

January 25, 2012

Los Angeles County Agrees to Take Major Step to Combat Section 8 Discrimination in the Antelope Valley

Settlement will restrict Lancaster and Palmdale’s ability to use County programs as a tool for harassment of Black and Latino families in the federal Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program

LOS ANGELES – For years, Antelope Valley families who are part of the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program faced harassment in the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale. Now Los Angeles County has sent a powerful message to these and other cities: County programs and departments will no longer be used as tools for intimidation and discrimination.  County Supervisors approved an agreement late Tuesday with attorneys representing Antelope Valley residents and the NAACP that takes away many of the tools that have been used to inspire fear in the more than 11,000 Section 8 participants in the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale who moved to the area seeking a better life for themselves and their families.

The County of Los Angeles agrees to take the following steps to ensure people needing rental assistance are no longer subjected to discrimination:

•         Stop the use of city taxpayer funds for harassment of Antelope Valley residents in the Section 8 program.
•         Stop the targeting of African American and Latino families and landlords who rent to them.
•         Prevent unwarranted involvement of LA County Sheriffs' personnel in Housing Authority compliance checks anywhere in Los Angeles County.
•         Create new policies that respect families’ fair housing rights.
•         Promote education about Section 8 participants’ rights under federal law.

A federal court must approve the agreement, which would go into effect immediately for a term of at least three years. The agreement does not affect the racial discrimination lawsuit, The Community Action League vs. Lancaster et al., that Antelope Valley residents and community groups filed in June 2011 against the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale over their violations of federal fair housing laws.

“This agreement ends a long nightmare when families who participated in the Section 8 program lived in fear of a knock at the door, and when neighbors saw a dozen sheriff’s deputies next door and started to mistrust families whose children had once played with theirs,” said Catherine Lhamon, director of impact litigation at Public Counsel. “It represents the best of what government can and should do. This is a new day for families in the Antelope Valley and across Los Angeles County.”

“By entering into this agreement, the Housing Authority and the Sheriff’s Department have made clear that they will not be parties to discrimination against Section 8 participants or allow County employees to be instruments of harassment and intimidation of African Americans and Latinos,” said Neal Dudovitz, executive director of Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County. 

Antelope Valley community members reacted to the news.

“This agreement sends a strong message that the Antelope Valley is one community and everyone belongs here,” said V. Jesse Smith, a founding member of The Community Action League and Antelope Valley resident. “It’s a powerful call to rebuild trust between neighbors and an important step to healing the divisions in our community.”

“Our nation’s fair housing laws treat everyone equally, whether you are black, white, or Latino, in the middle class or struggling to get by,” said Ron Hasson, Southwest Area Director of the California State Conference of the NAACP. 

Lancaster’s mayor has openly referred to a “war” on more than 3,000 families who participate in the Housing Choice Voucher program – the vast majority of whom are black and Latino – and the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale launched a multi-prong attack on participants and landlords who rented to them.

The result was that Section 8 participants in Lancaster and Palmdale were much more likely to be subjected to investigations than Section 8 participants anywhere else in the Housing Authority’s jurisdiction.  Between 2006 and 2010, the odds that a Section 8 participant would be subjected to an investigation were about 2.6 times higher in Lancaster than in the rest of County and about 3.2 times higher in Palmdale than in the rest of County.

The cities’ campaign also stoked racial animosity. After her home was pictured on an “I Hate Section 8” Facebook page, former Lancaster resident and lawsuit plaintiff Michelle Ross found racist graffiti and a swastika spray painted on her home. She later left the Antelope Valley out of fear for her family, but she called the County’s agreement a “critical step forward to helping neighbors become neighbors again.”

Plaintiffs are represented by Public Counsel, Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, the NAACP Office of the General Counsel, civil rights attorney Gary Blasi, Bill Lann Lee of Lewis, Feinberg, Lee, Renaker, & Jackson, P.C., the law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP and the law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP.