Amid a historic housing crisis, federal officials are alleging that Los Angeles City Hall took U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) money intended to develop affordable units for the physically challenged but didn't actually build the apartments.
This week the U.S. Attorney's Office in L.A. announced it was joining a whistleblower's lawsuit against the city and the CRA/LA (formerly the Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles). The suit was originally filed on behalf of L.A. resident Mei Ling, who uses a wheelchair and who claims she ended up homeless as a result of a lack of city-sponsored affordable housing for the disabled.
Federal prosecutors say the city falsely certified documents saying it had complied with federal requirements for developing disabled units so it could tap into "millions" of dollars in taxpayer cash intended for that purpose. They allege that CRA/LA officials failed to ensure the proper number of accessible units and that they also shirked a responsibility to monitor housing for the physically challenged to ensure availability and quash any discrimination. All the while, city officials allegedly submitted documents stating that they were following federal rules, according to the U.S. Attorney.
"This case alleges that the city of Los Angeles repeatedly violated the law by falsely certifying that millions of federal dollars were being used to build housing that included units accessible to people with disabilities,” the acting U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles, Sandra R. Brown, said in a statement. "While people with disabilities struggled to find accessible housing, the city and its agents denied them equal access to housing while falsely certifying the availability of such housing to keep the dollars flowing. The conduct alleged in this case is very troubling because of the impact on people who did not have access to housing that met their needs."
The city says the suit, if successful, could deprive it of much-needed funds to build housing at the worst possible time. Last month, the California Housing Partnership Corporation unveiled a report that concluded Los Angeles County needs at least 551,807 new units to meet housing demand in the region. And the latest count of homeless people in Los Angeles County found a 23 percent increase compared with last year.
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City Hall is spinning this as a battle over much-needed housing units. It's also pointing out that this is happening under the federal rule of President Trump, who's no hero in these parts.
"We will vigorously fight this lawsuit, which would deprive the city of crucial funds needed to address our housing crisis," Rob Wilcox, director of community engagement and outreach for the City Attorney's Office, said via email. "Los Angeles has demonstrated its commitment to create affordable housing that is accessible to all. In a settlement based on the same underlying facts, the city dedicated at least $200,000,000 over the next 10 years to create accessible, affordable housing. Yet the administration’s lawsuit seeks to divert tens of millions more from L.A. taxpayers to the federal treasury — without housing a single person. This abuse of power cannot stand."
Feds say they intervened after the suit was unsealed at the end of May. Because the plaintiff alleges "false claims" were made by the city in order to obtain government funds, she could get a cut of unspecified damages if the suit is victorious.
"Recipients of federal housing funds must honor their commitments to accommodate people with disabilities," acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division said in a statement. "Denying people with disabilities equal access to public housing deprives one of the most disadvantaged groups in society of fair housing opportunities."