In an unwelcome turn for a city suffering from a homelessness crisis, federal housing officials said they have denied Los Angeles $80 million in funds, citing long-standing failures by local leaders to ensure that properties built with government money are accessible to those who use wheelchairs or have other disabilities.
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson informed Mayor Eric Garcetti in a letter Friday that his agency was rebuffing funding proposals submitted by city officials last month.
“As you have been notified time and again, the city is unlawfully discriminating against individuals with disabilities in its affordable housing program, under federal accessibility laws ... and has refused to take the steps necessary to remedy this discrimination,” Carson wrote. He said a more detailed explanation for the rejection would be sent to the city within 15 days.
Local officials will have 45 days to resubmit or rework their funding application or may seek to obtain the funding by entering into an agreement that addresses the city’s outstanding violations on disabled housing, Carson said in his letter.
HUD officials did not respond to inquiries from The Times on Saturday. Garcetti, for his part, said in a statement that the city had previously worked in “good faith” with disabled rights advocates to address claims that the city had failed to provide sufficient housing for those who use wheelchairs or have other impairments.
Garcetti insisted that city leaders are working to address HUD’s concerns and that there are “no grounds” for withholding the money.
“These funds support an array of federal programs upon which millions of people rely, and withholding them will ultimately hurt the neediest among us,” the mayor said.
He said he planned to speak to Carson next week and urge him to reconsider the decision, which was first reported by Politico.
“At a time of rising homelessness and a moment of record income inequality in America, the victims of this action will not be local government, but struggling Americans,” Garcetti said.
The money being withheld by HUD includes funds from the federal HOME Investment Partnerships Program, which pays for affordable housing for low-income families.
The dispute pre-dates the administrations of both President Trump and the mayor. As far back as 2012, HUD complained about a “widespread failure” by the city to comply with federal disability rules, including the Americans With Disabilities Act.
That same year, advocacy groups filed a federal lawsuit alleging that taxpayer-funded homes in L.A. did not have proper accommodations for wheelchair users and others with disabilities.
The city settled that suit in 2016 with an agreement to spend more than $200 million to make sure 4,000 units were accessible to people who use wheelchairs, are hearing-impaired or live with other disabilities.
But just a year later, federal investigators inspecting 16 L.A. developments found an array of design flaws, such as closets that were too narrow, counter-tops that were too high and grab bars placed at incorrect heights that put wheelchair users at risk of falls.
This spring, HUD notified L.A. once again that it was failing to provide effective oversight of developers building the projects.
“Sadly, the city continues to engage in a widespread practice of flouting federal laws that require taxpayer dollars be used to produce affordable housing that persons with disabilities can live in,” Carson said in April.