Los Angeles County supervisors opted Tuesday to postpone additional funding for a subsidized housing enforcement program in Lancaster and Palmdale and called for an investigation into charges that the Antelope Valley cities are using the program to discriminate against low-income ethnic minorities.
The county had been contributing half the cost of extra investigators in the two cities to ensure that landlords and tenants comply with the regulations of the federal Section 8 housing voucher program. But a lawsuit filed in federal court by the NAACP earlier this month charged that Lancaster and Palmdale are waging an "unrelenting war" against blacks and Latinos who receive public assistance.
The lawsuit alleged that the cities conduct unfair surprise "compliance checks" of Section 8 residents, the majority of whom are black and Latino. Housing inspectors were often accompanied by armed Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies, and overzealous enforcement had cost as many as 200 local minority families their federal housing assistance each year in the Antelope Valley, the suit charged.
At Tuesday's board meeting, Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, whose district includes the Antelope Valley, made the motion to put of the decision to renew funding for the program until after county housing officials investigate the allegations.
Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris said he was disappointed by the board's decision. He told supervisors that the Antelope Valley had been inundated by the county's poor and lacked sufficient social services to handle their needs.
"This really isn't about race," Parris said. "Since the beginning of time kings have sent their poor into the desert and they have sent them there to wither and die. That is exactly what's going on today."
The mayor gave a 10-minute slideshow presentation to show that Lancaster's crackdown on Section 8 had coincided with decreases in crime. Crime dropped as Section 8 terminations rose, he argued.
"Section 8 and crime tracks," Parris said. His address was met with enthusiastic applause from scores of residents who had traveled by bus from Lancaster to show support for the city's hard line against alleged Section 8 violators.
Palmdale Mayor James C. Ledford Jr. was equally adamant that his city's tough Section 8 enforcement practices were not racially motivated. He said they were needed to ensure that recipients of public assistance complied with the rules.
The county had been paying $98,685 yearly to Lancaster and $62,000 to Palmdale to help fund extra inspectors for the Section 8 program.
Public Counsel, the public-interest law firm representing the unnamed plaintiffs in the lawsuit, joined the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People and other civil rights advocates in praising the supervisors' decision.
"By targeting participants in the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program, the cities have sent a clear message to black and Latino residents living near the poverty line: You are not wanted here," the plaintiffs' attorneys said in a joint statement.