Trump administration and L.A. end dispute over alleged discrimination against disabled renters
Los Angeles officials have reached an agreement with the Trump administration over alleged discrimination in housing, agreeing to build or retrofit more than 4,000 apartments for disabled residents over the next decade, officials said Friday.
The agreement comes weeks after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development threatened to withhold $80 million from the city amid allegations that the city failed to provide affordable housing that was properly accessible to tenants who are in wheelchairs or have other disabilities, as required by law.
The deal announced Friday is expected to restore L.A.’s access to those funds, which are considered crucial in the midst of an ongoing homelessness crisis, city officials said.
“I’m pleased we can now turn a page and begin the real work of providing affordable housing to the people who need it most and have gone without it for too long,” HUD Secretary Ben Carson said in a statement Friday.
The agreement comes nearly three years after city officials settled a federal lawsuit with disabled rights groups over the same issue. In that case, the city pledged to spend $200 million over a decade to resolve such problems and ensure that 4,000 units were accessible.
The new pact with HUD is similar in several ways: L.A. has agreed to spend $200 million over a decade and meet a 4,031-unit target. City officials said that units being built or retrofitted to meet the requirements of the earlier settlement can also be used to meet the targets set under the new agreement with HUD.
At least a portion of the $200 million allocated under the 2016 settlement can be applied to the spending required under the HUD agreement, an aide to Mayor Eric Garcetti said.
There are some key differences between the two agreements. Rushmore Cervantes, who heads L.A.'s Housing and Community Investment Department, said the earlier deal did not specify whether its 4,000-unit goal had to be met with new construction or rehabilitated units.
Under the HUD agreement, which was approved Friday by the City Council, Los Angeles must retrofit 3,100 existing apartments so that they can be used by tenants with disabilities. If it fails to do so, the overall number of accessible units that it is supposed to produce — now pegged at 4,031 — would increase.
The city must also ensure that 15% of all newly built or renovated units constructed with federal funds are accessible over the coming decade. Because the city expects to build 10,000 affordable units over the next 10 years, that requirement could yield at least 1,500 accessible units, according to city and federal officials.
As part of the agreement, L.A. did not admit any wrongdoing. Garcetti welcomed HUD’s announcement, which followed weeks of negotiations between city leaders and federal housing officials.
“When governments put aside differences and find common ground, we can do extraordinary work to lift up the most vulnerable in our communities,” he said in a statement.
The dispute precedes the administrations of both Garcetti and President Trump. In 2011, HUD investigated complaints about affordable housing and found that Los Angeles had failed to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act and other federal disability rules. Advocates sued the city soon after, alleging that many affordable apartments were not properly accessible.
That lawsuit was settled in 2016. But the next year, federal investigators found that L.A. developments still had crucial flaws, such as closets that were too narrow and grab bars placed improperly, putting wheelchair users at risk of falling.
Even though the dispute with HUD has now been resolved, the city remains the target of a 2-year-old whistleblower lawsuit involving similar issues.
That case, which is being handled by the U.S. attorney’s office, alleges that city officials accepted hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds while falsely claiming they were complying with federal rules on the construction of disabled housing.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney said Friday’s agreement with HUD does not affect that case.
Still, one high-level Garcetti aide said he believes any judge reviewing those allegations would need to take into account the steps the city has taken to address HUD’s concerns.
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