A lawsuit filed by the U.S Department of Justice alleges that the City of Los Angeles falsely promised to create accessible homes for the disabled to fraudulently obtain millions of dollars in federal housing grants.
The complaint, filed on July 31 in Los Angeles federal court, claims that the city and the CRA/LA, formerly known as the Community and Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles, were the recipients of millions of dollars in funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The complaint alleges that they failed to comply with the accessibility laws designed to guarantee fair and equal access to the disabled in public housing.
According to the suit, the city was required to certify it was meeting those obligations, and in addition, monitor public housing projects to ensure that the developers were not excluding the disabled. It failed in both areas, the suit claims.
A spokesman for the city of L.A., Rob Wilcox, said in June that the city would fight the lawsuit which was originally filed by whistleblowers Mei Ling, a disabled resident who uses a wheelchair, and the Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley, a non-profit civil rights advocacy organization.
Wilcox continued by saying that the City of Los Angeles “has demonstrated its commitment to create affordable housing that is accessible to all.”
He added that the city has already dedicated at least $200 million over the next 10 years to create accessible, affordable housing.
The suit is an abuse of power that “seeks to divert tens of millions more from L.A. taxpayers to the federal treasury – without housing a single person,” Wilcox said. “We will vigorously fight this lawsuit, which would deprive the city of crucial funds needed to address our housing crisis.”
Mei Ling and the Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley originally filed the suit six years ago.
The council’s executive director said, “I have people who have crawled down the stairs on their bellies in order to get out of their apartments because they didn’t have elevators.”
Mei Ling, 63, currently lives in housing that isn’t designed to be accessible for the disabled.
“I can’t even take a simple shower, because that’s not how my unit was set up.” Ling said at a news conference.
Prosecutors for the federal government allege repeated compliance certification with federal accessibility laws to obtain the HUD funds while failing to take to required measures to ensure compliance with those laws. In many of the HUD assisted apartment buildings, not even minimal accessibility requirements were met. Under the law, a percentage of units must be accessible to people with disabilities.
“While people with disabilities struggled to find accessible housing, the city and it’s agents denied them equal access to housing while falsely certifying availability of such housing to keep the dollars flowing,” said acting U.S. Atty. Sandra R. Brown in a statement.
Federal officials have not declared the amount of damages they will try to recover from the city.
Vititoe Law Group represents clients who file qui tam lawsuits under the false claims act. If you have exclusive knowledge of fraud against the federal government, you may qualify for filing a whistleblower claim and share in a substantial portion of the settlement. Contact Vititoe Law Group for a free evaluation of your claim. Call 818-991-8900. Do not hesitate, as you need to be the first to file for your claim to be valid.