Following an announcement of a settlement agreement between the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Housing Authority of the County of Los Angeles (HACoLA) to resolve allegations that it collaborated with the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale, as well as the County’s Sheriff’s Department to discourage low-income African American residents from utilizing Section 8 Housing Choice vouchers, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (CA-43), Ranking Member of the Committee on Financial Services, expressed her thorough disgust with revelations of the disturbing discriminatory actions. The Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program is a federal program that allows low-income households to rent units from private landlords at affordable levels.
After conducting a thorough investigation and filing a complaint in federal court, the DOJ announced earlier this week that it had reached a settlement agreement in which HACoLA agreed to pay $1,975,000 in monetary damages on behalf of itself and the cities, and a $25,000 civil penalty to the United States. Earlier this year, the Justice Department announced a separate but related settlement agreement with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department that provided for $700,000 in compensation and a civil penalty of $25,000 to the United States.
She released the following statement.
“I am appalled by recent revelations of discriminatory and illegal actions of the cities of Palmdale and Lancaster, along with the Housing Authority of the County of Los Angeles and Sheriff’s Department, against low-income African American residents in the County’s Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program. The Department of Justice findings that are being resolved with these settlement agreements are simply shameful and part of a disgraceful effort to discourage these families from utilizing their Section 8 vouchers to live in certain neighborhoods.
The complaint filed by the DOJ against HACoLA acknowledged that the cities of Palmdale and Lancaster have a ‘history of residential racial segregation and of excluding African-American residents.’ From the use of excessive force, to biased policing practices, including housing discrimination, and unlawful searches and seizures, HACoLA and the Los Angeles County Sherriff’s department conspired to unfairly target these residents. They actively sought to undermine the intent of the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program, which is to provides low-income families with the opportunity to move into neighborhoods with greater opportunities, such as better schools and better employment prospects.
With the recent Supreme Court decision to uphold disparate impact under the Fair Housing Act, and HUD’s recent release of its final regulation to clarify and strengthen a key aspect of the Fair Housing Act, conservatives continue to claim that segregation in American neighborhoods is simply the result of personal preferences, not discrimination. Nevertheless, these settlement agreements are prime examples of why this is a false assumption. Minorities continue to be actively discriminated against in the housing market, facing targeted harassment from police and local officials for simply choosing to live in certain neighborhoods.
It is imperative that the Justice Department remains vigilant in enforcing compliance with this agreement, while also working to prevent the spread of these revolting strategies to any other community, not only here in Los Angeles County, but in communities all across our nation. The monetary compensation for the victims of this injustice is only a small part of what is needed to address a more systemic problem with HACoLA in particular.
I continue to be deeply disappointed with HACoLA and its seemingly misguided priorities. HACoLA’s top priority should be the well-being of its tenants. These recent revelations run directly counter to that priority, as does HACoLA’s recent proposal to sell 241 units of public housing in South Los Angeles, which will displace low-income tenants who will likely have difficulty finding decent housing in the private market, and who may face the same kind of discrimination that Section 8 residents faced in Palmdale and Lancaster. I am also seriously concerned about the systemic lack of meaningful resident engagement at HACoLA, and urge careful and thorough examination of the housing authority’s interactions with its residents.
The L.A. County Board of Supervisors must provide serious and sustained oversight to its housing authority and its sheriff’s department to weed out racism and discrimination against our most vulnerable residents.“