DOJ Steps In for People With Disabilities in LA Fair Housing Case

LOS ANGELES (CN) – The Justice Department said Wednesday it will intervene in a lawsuit accusing the city of Los Angeles of lying about providing fair and equal access to apartments to people with disabilities after securing almost $1 billion in federal funds.

The whistleblower case that sparked federal involvement was filed under seal on Feb. 1, 2011, by Mei Ling of Los Angeles and the nonprofit Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley.

In United States ex rel. Ling, et al. v. City of Los Angeles, Ling claimed the city and its Community Redevelopment Agency said it was in compliance with the federal Rehabilitation Act and other civil rights laws mandating access to housing for people with disabilities.

Los Angeles made the false claims of compliance to “secure nearly one billion dollars in federal funds” and “deprive the federal government and people with disabilities of hundreds, if not thousands, of such accessible units,” the federal complaint states.

Six years before the lawsuit was filed, city agencies distributed hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds for apartment complexes “without ensuring that each complex includes the minimum number of accessible dwelling units required by federal law,” the filing says.

In a news release, the Justice Department said 5 percent of all housing units in the apartment buildings should have been accessible to the physically disabled, while 2 percent should have accommodated people whose sight and hearing are impaired. But despite applying for and receiving the federal funds, Los Angeles did not comply with the applicable housing laws, the Justice Department says.

The government’s lawsuit claimed the city failed to monitor recipients of Housing & Urban Development Department funds to ensure they built the required units and did not make units for people with disabilities available to the general public.

Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office spokesman Rob Wilcox said the city would contest the claims and that the litigation will “deprive the city of crucial funds needed to address our housing crisis” and that the government’s “abuse of power cannot stand.”

“Los Angeles has demonstrated its commitment to create affordable housing that is accessible to all,” Wilcox wrote in an email. “In a settlement based on the same underlying facts, the city dedicated at least $200,000,000 over the next ten 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.”

Acting United States Attorney Sandra Brown said she was troubled by the allegations in the lawsuit because people who most needed the housing were deprived of it.

“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,” Brown said in a statement.

“After a lengthy investigation, the United States elected to intervene in the lawsuit, which was unsealed on May 31 in an order signed by United States District Judge Philip S. Gutierrez. The government learned that the case was unsealed earlier this week,” the DOJ said.

The United States did not immediately file court papers to intervene but has until July 31 to do so.

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