Public Counsel Sues Lancaster And Palmdale Over "War" On Section 8 Housing

Update: Lancaster Mayor Rex Parris calls the lawsuit "inflammatory bullshit." More below.
Update 2: Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford gives his own defense.

A public interest law firm filed a racial discrimination suit today against Lancaster and Palmdale, charging that the cities have declared "war" on Section 8 housing.

The cities have conducted routine sweeps of Section 8 units, encouraged residents to report "problem renters," and threatened to revoke the business licenses of Section 8 landlords, according to the suit filed in federal court by Public Counsel.

The suit quotes Lancaster Mayor Rex Parris warning in 2008 that the city

was becoming a "dumping ground" for Section 8 tenants. "It is time to

go to war," he said.

Section 8 is the federally subsidized housing program for low-income renters. About 85% of Section 8 tenants in Lancaster and Palmdale are black and Latino.

According to the lawsuit, the two cities stepped up "compliance checks" of Section 8 units in 2004. In Palmdale, investigator Gary Brody would bring 15 armed officers with him on sweeps, threatening voucher holders that he would obtain search warrants if they did not consent to searches, according to the suit.

Investigators in Lancaster and Palmdale recommended terminating tenants from the program at a much higher rate than elsewhere in the county, the suit alleges. From 2006 to 2010, 59% of all proposed terminations in L.A. County came from Lancaster and Palmdale -- though the two cities had only 17% of the county's Section 8 tenants.

The cities also proposed an ad campaign to warn potential Section 8 tenants that there are no jobs or services in the Antelope Valley, and that the cost of living is too high, the suit alleges.

The suit is filed on behalf of civil rights groups and two anonymous plaintiffs, who allege they were harassed by city employees because they were on Section 8. One plaintiff said she left the Antelope Valley after being intimidated by the city's compliance sweeps.

Another said that Brody searched her home repeatedly, along with 15 officers with guns drawn. Her children were routinely harassed in the street and were called "dirty Section 8 niggers." She said she is trying to relocate out of the Antelope Valley.

The cities of Lancaster and Palmdale have not returned calls seeking comment on the suit.

Update: Lancaster Mayor Rex Parris pulled no punches in his response.

"I am at war with Section 8," Parris said. "I would do anything I legally could to stop the inundation of Section 8 housing into our community."

Parris said that the Section 8 program is "moving the urban poor into the suburbs, which is destroying hard-working family neighborhoods.... It's not a secret what's happening to America. Lancaster is just one of the cities affected. We seem to be one of the only cities doing something about it."

Parris called the lawsuit "inflammatory bullshit," and said it had been filed by "ultraliberal lawyers" and "idiots."

"They are lying in that complaint," he said. "It has nothing to do with race. We want to maintain our integrated neighborhoods. If you start overloading neighborhoods, they'll sort. You'll have a black section and a white section."

Parris alleged that the Los Angeles County Housing Authority has dumped Section 8 residents in Lancaster, but kept the money from the program in downtown L.A.

"Do you think I should step back and say, 'Send us more?'" he asked.

Update 2: Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford offered his own defense today.

"Our interest is compliance," Ledford said. "The effects of people not living within the rules has a devastating effect on our neighborhoods. We're trying to preserve our neighborhoods."

Ledford said that Palmdale is among the few cities that pay for inspectors to check that Section 8 tenants are living within the rules of the program -- which include not having extra tenants, not using drugs and not housing parolees.

"We let them know that people are watching," he said. "My residents appreciate us paying attention."

"Why are we the only ones doing this?"

First posted at 11:41 a.m. Tuesday.

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