The Los Angeles County housing authority has settled claims with the Justice Department Monday that it participated in a scheme with two cities to discriminate against hundreds of black residents enrolled in the federal Section 8 housing voucher program.
From at least 2004 to 2011, the county, along with the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale in the Antelope Valley bedroom community, began a “targeted campaign of discriminatory enforcement” against black voucher holders in order to “discourage and exclude them and other blacks from living in the cities.”
Among other things, the cities and the county hired investigators to instigate unprecedented enforcement of the voucher program's rules, despite no evidence of an uptick in program violations.
The scheme seems to have stemmed from the openly racist reaction among existing residents to rising use of Section 8 users in the area.
The complaint cites, among other things, the creation of a local Facebook page, since removed, called I Hate Section 8; and posts to other unidentified websites by existing residents saying thigs like "My earlier prediction that the entire LA county section of the Antelope Valley is being ‘ghettoized’ has been confirmed by a tour of the area this week… I see ‘creeping darkness’ even on the west side as well.’”
Another poster to an unnamed site included racist lyrics from a song entitled “Nigger, Nigger,” written by a white supremacist in the mid-1960s, the complaint alleges.
City officials responded by agreeing there was a problem. During a City of Lancaster Section 8 Commission meeting, City Council Member Sherry Marquez said, “Unfortunately, those that receive the vouchers do not stay in the City of Los Angeles, they migrate to the Antelope Valley…Lancaster soon will be inundated with another group.”
And a Palmdale council member stated he wanted to be sure “Section 8” did not “swarm the valley.”
Usually, it would be the county’s job to push back against this sort of thing. But in 2004 and 2005, the county agreed to split the salaries of two investigators who would be tasked with increasing enforcement of voucher laws, even though there was no evidence to suggest voucher fraud was higher in the valley than elsewhere, the complaint says.
Yet, from 2005 to 2011, the county’s housing authority dedicated the same number of investigators to the Antelope Valley as to the rest of its entire jurisdiction, despite the fact that less than 20% of all county voucher holders lived in the valley, the complaint says. The investigators used unannounced compliance checks of voucher holder homes to search for violations.
“There was no legitimate law enforcement or programmatic justification for these types of extraordinary enforcement efforts,” the complaint says.
Yet county sheriffs deputies collaborated with the investigators to intimidate, harass, and facilitate the termination of the vouchers, it says.
The MOUs were renewed every year until 2011.
The county has agreed to pay $1,975,000 in monetary damages on behalf of itself and the cities, and a $25,000 civil penalty. The funds will be used to compensate individuals harmed by the practices. Many voucher holders will also be eligible to have their voucher terminations removed from their public housing record, and anyone improperly terminated will be reinstated.
Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.