Carol J. Williams and Ann M. Simmons, Los Angeles Times, June 8, 2011
Elected leaders in Lancaster and Palmdale have waged an “unrelenting war” against low-income blacks and Latinos who receive public assistance in a campaign to drive them out of the historically white Antelope Valley, civil rights lawyers alleged in a lawsuit filed Tuesday.
As many as 200 local minority families have lost their federal housing assistance each year, according to the lawsuit filed in federal court by the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People and unnamed victims of the alleged harassment.
Most of the families have been cut off following surprise “compliance checks” by housing authorities and police, aimed at rooting out fraud in the federal housing assistance program known as Section 8.
Civil rights advocates say the crackdowns amount to racial discrimination, as 85% of the Section 8 households are black or Latino.
City leaders defend their actions, saying that they stepped up the inspections in response to public concerns about crime.
Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris said there is evidence that crime in Lancaster tends to “cluster around Section 8 housing.” Since Lancaster began its stepped-up enforcement, crime stemming from Section 8 housing units has “dropped dramatically,” Parris said.
Palmdale Mayor James C. Ledford Jr. was equally adamant that his city’s tough Section 8 enforcement practices weren’t racially motivated.
“The allegation is absurd,” Ledford said. “Our population demographics are quite diverse. Diversity is something that we’re celebrating, not discouraging.”