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Lancaster sues county housing agency over legal fees

August 14, 2012 |  5:17 pm

Officials in Lancaster said Tuesday that they are suing the Housing Authority of Los Angeles County in an effort to recoup nearly $400,000 that the city has spent to defend itself in legal battles over a now-defunct program that targeted alleged fraud among recipients of federal Section 8 housing assistance.

“The ongoing litigation over our Section 8 fraud investigation program, which aimed only to protect taxpayers by eradicating fraud from the system and freeing up vouchers for those who are truly in need, has cost the City dearly,” Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris said in a statement.

Earlier this year, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors agreed to stop funding additional housing investigators in the desert communities of Palmdale and Lancaster, where officials have been accused of targeting nonwhite recipients of federal housing subsidies for eviction and harassment.

The action was among those the supervisors agreed to in the face of legal challenges by civil rights organizations, including the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People.

Parris said Tuesday that the “wrongful actions” alleged in the legal complaints were performed by L.A. County housing agency employees, and were carried out under a contract in which the housing authority had agreed to defend Lancaster and “take responsibility for all costs for damages related to the actions of its investigators.”

Parris accused the county of abandoning the program and adding “fuel to the fire by feeding false information about the City’s liability” to the lawsuit plaintiffs and to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In an email, Elisa E. Vásquez, a spokeswoman for the L.A. County Housing Authority, said her agency had not yet reviewed the complaint and had no comment. 

In June, the NAACP withdrew its discrimination complaint against Lancaster, leading federal housing officials to end an almost yearlong investigation into housing practices in the High Desert municipality. Attorneys for the civil rights group said the complaint was withdrawn so the organization could focus on a similar civil suit against Lancaster.

In February, Palmdale, which was initially also named in the NAACP lawsuit, agreed to settle but admitted no wrongdoing.

In a phone interview Tuesday, Parris said he had no intention of settling.

“I just don’t know how to settle it,” Parris said. “We were right. They were wrong.  I’m not going to  put a stamp of endorsement on giving criminals immunity.”


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-- Ann M. Simmons in Santa Clarita