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Federal Government Joins Lawsuit Alleging That L.A. Failed To Build Enough Housing For The Disabled

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The federal government has joined a lawsuit that claims that the City of Los Angeles and CRA/LA (the now-shuttered Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles) had failed to develop a sufficient number of housing for the disabled, even after receiving federal funds to do so, the U.S. Department of Justice announced on Wednesday.

The suit alleges that the city had "falsely certified compliance with federal accessibility laws" that were established from receiving housing grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). It goes on to say that the city received $933 million in federal funds over six years to build public housing, with the promise that 5 percent of the units would be accessible to people with impaired mobility, and another 2 percent accommodating people with sight or hearing problems, reports KPCC.

As recipients of HUD funds, the city was expected to certify that it was meeting these requirements, to keep a public list of accessible units and their accessibility features, and to set up a monitoring program to ensure that people with disabilities were taking advantage of the offerings. The suit alleges that the city had failed to do these things.

"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," said said Acting United States Attorney Sandra R. Brown. "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.”

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Rob Wilcox, Director of Community Engagement and Outreach at the office of L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer, said that the office will, "vigorously fight this lawsuit," adding that the city has devoted resources to establish housing for the disabled. "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," Wilcox said in a statement. "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."

As reported at the L.A. Times, the lawsuit was initially filed six years ago by Mei Ling, now 63, and the nonprofit Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley. According to City News Service, Ling said that she'd been homeless for three years at one point before she moved into a shelter. As part of the agreement with living at the shelter, she had to actively look for new housing. Ling, who uses a wheelchair, said that she had difficulty finding affordable housing that accommodated her disability. "The accessibly features that are necessary for me, it just wasn't there," Ling said.

Sharon Kinlaw, executive director of the Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley, told CNS that, due to the lack of units that are built for the disabled, she has clients who are forced to use wood planks as ramps, or are sometimes forced to stay in their apartments for months because an elevator had stopped working.

The suit was filed under the False Claims Act, which lets private whistleblowers sue on the government's behalf, and later split the recoveries, according to Reuters.

"This is monumental for my client," Scott Moore, an attorney representing Ling, told Reuters. "If cities think they can take the money, and only then try to make amends, then the False Claims Act has no meaning."

In 2016, the city settled a lawsuit that had alleged that L.A. had failed to build enough housing for the disabled (this is the same lawsuit that Wilcox had referenced earlier in this article). The agreement required that the city spend $200 million over ten years to address concerns that publicly funded housing didn't have enough accommodations for people with disabilities, according to an earlier Times story. L.A. City Council would agree to ensure that 4,000 units would meet those requirements.

LAist reached out to Moore and the Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley, but no one was immediately available for comment.