Los Angeles Times

COUNTY REVEALS PAYOUT IN BIAS CASE

It will pay $ 2 million to low- income blacks targeted by housing officials and deputies in Antelope Valley.

- By Abby Sewell

The U. S. Justice Department on Monday closed the books on a four- year investigat­ion that found that Los Angeles County housing officials and sheriff’s deputies joined with two cities to drive black residents out of Antelope Valley.

The county Housing Authority agreed to pay $ 2 million to victims of alleged discrimina­tion, and some families who lost their housing assistance will have the chance to get it back. This year, the Sheriff’s Department agreed to pay $ 700,000 and implement policies aimed at preventing racial bias.

The Justice Department launched an investigat­ion in 2011 into allegation­s that minorities— particular­ly African Americans — living in federally subsidized housing in Lancaster and Palmdale were being harassed and discrimina­ted against by sheriff ’ s deputies and county housing agency officials.

Prosecutor­s alleged in a lawsuit that the agencies had engaged in a “targeted campaign of discrimina­tory enforcemen­t against African American [ housing] voucher holders in order to discourage and exclude them and other African Americans from living in the cities.”

Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, said the changes made as a result of the case will give more peo--

ple the chance to live in neighborho­ods of their choosing without fear of government harassment.

“There’s really no question that for many people and communitie­s in this country, where you live determines the opportunit­ies you have,” she said.

Those who say they were targeted by the discrimina­tion — and there could be hundreds — will be eligible for monetary damages and will have a chance to have their Section 8 low- income housing vouchers reinstated.

Toni Clark, 55, said she lost her rental subsidy after deputies found a small amount of marijuana in her car during a traffic stop in 2008 and alerted housing officials. Clark said she and her children ended up homeless because of the incident.

“I’ve been through hell,” she said. “I just didn’t feel the punishment fit the crime.”

Clark said she was “overjoyed” to hear of the settlement.

The county supervisor­s voted 4 to 0 last week with Don Knabe absent to approve the monetary part of the agreement and 3 to 1 for the “remedial measures.” But the terms were not released until it was finalized Monday.

Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, who represents Antelope Valley, cast the lone “no” vote. Antonovich’s housing deputy, Jarrod DeGonia, said the supervisor “felt it was important that those individual­s who were caught in violation of Section 8 rules not receive any money because of the settlement.”

The federal complaint alleged that the county Housing Authority and Sheriff’s Department subjected black Section 8 voucher holders to “more intrusive and intimidati­ng compliance checks” than their white counterpar­ts and also were more likely to terminate black residents’ vouchers.

Federal officials alleged that the cities, which provided money to the county for extra enforcemen­t, encouraged the discrimina­tory practices.

The settlement requires the county and cities to put in place new anti- discrimina­tion policies and training for employees who deal with housing.

Section 8 voucher holders who can show that they were discrimina­ted against from 2004 to 2011 will also have the chance to have their vouchers reinstated or receive compensati­on of up to$ 25,000. Theprocess could take a year or longer, Justice Department officials said.

Of the hundreds of people who say they were discrimina­ted against, only five households will be able to have their vouchers restored, according to settlement documents, which did not specify a reason for that number. They must first go through a vetting process.

A larger number will be eligible to receive monetary compensati­on or have their voucher terminatio­n wiped from public housing records.

V. Jesse Smith, co- founder of the Community Action League, an Antelope Valley advocacy group that filed a separate lawsuit in 2011 over the discrimina­tion allegation­s, said he was happy to hear that some people would have the chance to get their vouchers back.

“We never did this for money,” he said.“We did this to protect the rights of our Section 8 citizens.”

County housing officials said they have made changes since 2011, including discontinu­ing the compliance check program that had led to many of the discrimina­tion complaints. A Housing Authority spokeswoma­n said the agency has since adopted “alternativ­e program enforcemen­t measures, vetted by the DOJ, that have actually proven to be more effective and efficient.”

Housing Authority Executive Director Sean Rogan said in a statement that the settlement will allow the agency to “put the matter behind us and focus efforts on our goal of providing quality housing assistance to low- income families, seniors and veterans.”

Palmdale Assistant City Atty. Noel Doran said the allegation that the city encouraged discrimina­tion is “patently false.” The practice of cities providing money to the county for housing enforcemen­t was common at the time, he said. Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford said Palmdale is an “incredibly integrated city.”

A spokesman for the city of Lancaster did not respond to a request for comment. The cities will not be required to contribute to the monetary settlement but must put policies in place to prevent discrimina­tion.

Under the separate agreement reached with the Sheriff’s Department in April, the county was required to put in place rules that require deputies to be more courteous toward Antelope Valley residents.

The county also agreed to set aside $ 700,000 to pay victims of racial profiling and to track data on stops and searches to determine whether minorities are being unfairly targeted.

 ?? Christina House
For The Times ?? STAN MUHAMMAD, right, speaks at a 2013 news conference on alleged housing discrimina­tion in Antelope Valley. A settlement closes the books on the case.
Christina House For The Times STAN MUHAMMAD, right, speaks at a 2013 news conference on alleged housing discrimina­tion in Antelope Valley. A settlement closes the books on the case.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States