Pros­e­cu­tors up­date dis­abled hous­ing law­suit

Feds amend 6-yearold case, say­ing L.A. mis­used funds on nonac­ces­si­ble projects.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By David Zah­niser

Los An­ge­les city of­fi­cials used fed­eral funds to build hous­ing that had sinks, door­ways, bal­conies and other fea­tures that could not be used by peo­ple in wheel­chairs, pros­e­cu­tors al­lege in new fed­eral doc­u­ments.

The com­plaint, filed Mon­day by the U.S. at­tor­ney’s of­fice, amends a law­suit lodged by two whistle­blow­ers against the city and its Com­mu­nity Re­de­vel­op­ment Agency six years ago.

Pros­e­cu­tors con­tend the city fraud­u­lently ob­tained mil­lions of dol­lars in fed­eral grants by falsely cer­ti­fy­ing that the money was be­ing spent in a way that com­plied with fed­eral ac­ces­si­bil­ity laws. Those laws re­quire that a per­cent­age of fed­er­ally funded hous­ing projects serve ten­ants who use wheel­chairs or have other im­pair­ments.

In the up­dated fil­ing, pros­e­cu­tors said fed­eral hous­ing funds have been pro­vided to the city for more than 300 res­i­den­tial projects since 2001. Yet those prop­er­ties are “largely in­ac­ces­si­ble,” the com­plaint says.

Pros­e­cu­tors al­lege that nei­ther the city nor the re­de­vel­op­ment agency main­tained a wait list of ac­ces­si­ble units for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, as re­quired by fed­eral law. They also iden­ti­fied de­sign prob­lems in dozens of projects, such as:

Bal­conies too nar­row to be used by peo­ple in wheel­chairs,

Ramps and door­way thresh­olds too steep for wheel­chairs to roll over,

Steps that blocked ac­cess to com­mon ar­eas,

Mail­boxes, sinks and grab bars in­stalled be­yond the reach of wheel­chair users,

A lack of vis­ual alarms and tac­tile signs to help res­i­dents with hear­ing or vis­ual im­pair­ments.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of City Atty. Mike Feuer de­clined to com­ment. Two months ago, Feuer spokesman Rob Wil­cox called the U.S. at­tor­ney’s ac­tions in the case an “abuse of power.”

Wil­cox said the city had al­ready shown its com­mit­ment to ac­ces­si­ble af­ford­able hous­ing by reach­ing a le­gal set­tle­ment with three non­profit groups that made sim­i­lar al­le­ga­tions. That agree­ment, ap­proved last year, calls for the city to spend more than $200 mil­lion over a decade to en­sure that 4,000 units of af­ford­able hous­ing are ac­ces­si­ble to those with dis­abil­i­ties.

One of the three non­profit groups that set­tled, Fair Hous­ing Coun­cil of the San Fer­nando Val­ley, filed the whis­tle-blower law­suit, along with a North Hol­ly­wood res­i­dent who uses a wheel­chair.

Pros­e­cu­tors said that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment is en­ti­tled to an amount equal to triple the dam­ages suf­fered for each fraud­u­lent act com­mit­ted. Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. at­tor­ney’s of­fice, said his agency does not have a spe­cific dam­ages amount.

“Our goal is to see the United States fully com­pen­sated and to de­ter sim­i­lar mis­con­duct,” Mrozek said in an email.

The com­plaint also calls for the city to pay penal­ties. Un­der the False Claims Act, vi­o­la­tions be­fore Nov. 2, 2015, carry a penalty rang­ing from $5,500 to $11,000, ac­cord­ing to the fil­ing.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.