Update below: Rex Parris pulls no punches in response.
Lancaster and Palmdale have been at war with the Section 8 housing program for the last several years, fighting off what they see as an "inundation" of the urban poor into the Antelope Valley.
But today they've lost the biggest tool in their arsenal, as L.A. County agreed not to work with the cities for at least the next three years.
The agreement, approved last night by the Board of Supervisors, means that county housing inspectors will no longer team up with the Antelope Valley cities to do Section 8 "compliance checks." In other words, the days of Section 8 residents being visited by a platoon of Sheriff's deputies are over.
The L.A. County Housing Authority will also no longer provide personal information about Section 8 residents to the cities. That means Lancaster and Palmdale won't know which tenants have government subsidies, which will make it much harder for them to pursue the crackdown on their own.
The settlement is a victory for Public Counsel, the public interest law firm that sued Lancaster and Palmdale last summer over its treatment of Section 8 residents. The firm also threatened to sue L.A. County over its cooperation with the two cities, which led to the settlement agreement.
"The county has said 'Not in our backyard,'" said Catherine Lhamon, an attorney for Public Counsel. "No longer will we focus on pushing people out of the program."
The Antelope Valley saw a significant increase in its black population in the early 2000s, as the housing bubble made it one of the few relatively affordable places to live in the county. Section 8 has been a hot issue in the Antelope Valley since about 2004, as city officials linked the government subsidized housing program to crime and drug use.
Lancaster and Palmdale paid L.A. County $160,000 a year for extra compliance checks at Section 8 apartments. The investigators were looking for violations that could lead to termination from the program. They were often accompanied by squads of up to 15 Sheriff's deputies, sending a message that Section 8 tenants were not welcome.
That program has been suspended for the last six months. Under the agreement, it will not return for at least the next three years. Public Counsel is still pursuing its suit against Lancaster and Palmdale, arguing the city has taken other steps to discourage landlords from renting to Section 8 tenants.
The Board of Supervisors approved the settlement on a 4-1 vote. The lone dissenter was Supervisor Michael Antonovich, who represents the Antelope Valley.
In an interview last summer, Lancaster Mayor Rex Parris argued that the Section 8 program was a threat to his city's working-class neighborhoods.
"I would do anything that I legally could to stop the inundation of Section 8 housing into our community," he said.
He also called the Public Counsel suit "inflammatory bullshit" cooked up by "ultraliberal lawyers" and "idiots."
Update: It's not much, but here's Palmdale's response, from Assistant City Attorney Noel Doran:
"The City of Palmdale is aware of the agreement between the plaintiffs and Los Angeles County. The City Council intends to discuss the pending litigation at its next regularly scheduled meeting on Feb. 1, and I anticipate that a formal statement regarding this matter will be released shortly thereafter."
Update 2: Lancaster Mayor R, Rex Parris, never at a loss for words, said this afternoon that he expects the city will ultimately prevail.
"For whatever reason, the county has decided to tell people they no longer have to follow the law," he said. "This is an invitation to everybody who wants to commit Section 8 fraud. Come to Lancaster and Palmdale. We're not allowed to enforce the law."
Parris said the city will figure out how to address the issue without the county's help.
"In some neighborhoods, it may mean putting a deputy on every corner," he said.
Referring to criticism of the city's approach to the issue, Parris said "I'll take the hit. I'm running at 80% popularity up here."
Update 3: Supervisor Antonovich explains his opposition to the settlement:
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"With over 91% of terminations upheld, investigators have effectively rooted out fraud in the Antelope Valley. There are over 200,000 eligible families and seniors on the County's 10-year waiting list for Section 8. With only 3 investigators countywide, it is impossible to remove fraud and abuse to ensure those who actually need the housing will get it."
Also, Parris follows up on his earlier comments with this statement:
"The public should be outraged that the County entered into a backroom deal to settle litigation (litigation that the County isn't even a party to) which will hurt hundreds of thousands of law-abiding families and seniors. The meritless settlement by County Counsel will drive up costs for everyone and sends the wrong message to the public - that committing housing fraud is acceptable. This proposed settlement is not warranted based on the facts of the case and lets criminals know that they can act with impunity."
First posted at 10:27 a.m.