United States Intervenes in False Claims Act Lawsuit Against the City of Los Angeles and CRA/LA for Knowingly Failing to Provide Accessible Housing
Seattle Whistleblower Attorneys report that the United States has intervened in a lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles and the CRA/LA (formerly the Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles) alleging that they falsely certified compliance with federal accessibility laws in connection with claims submitted to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for housing grants. The accessibility laws allegedly violated include Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Fair Housing Act, and the duty to affirmatively further fair housing, which are meant to ensure that people with disabilities have fair and equal access to public housing.
The lawsuit alleges that the City applied for and received from HUD millions of dollars in federal housing funds, a portion of which it provided to the CRA/LA, to develop affordable housing that was accessible for people with disabilities. As recipients of HUD funds, the City and the CRA/LA must comply with the accessibility laws allegedly violated. Among other things, these laws require that five percent of all units in certain federally-assisted multifamily housing be accessible for people with mobility impairments, and an additional two percent be accessible for people with visual and auditory impairments. They also require that the City and the CRA/LA maintain a publicly available list of accessible units and their accessibility features. Likewise, they require that the City and the CRA/LA have a monitoring program in place to ensure people with disabilities are not excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of, or otherwise subjected to discrimination in, federally-assisted housing programs and activities solely on the basis of a disability.
The City annually had to certify compliance with Section 504, the Fair Housing Act, and the duty to affirmatively further fair housing as a precondition for receiving HUD funds. The lawsuit alleges that none of the HUD-assisted multifamily housing supported by the CRA/LA, or other developers, met the minimum number of accessible units. The lawsuit also alleges that the City and the CRA/LA neither monitored sub-recipients of HUD funds for compliance with federal accessibility laws nor maintained a publicly-available list of accessible units and their accessibility features.
“Recipients of federal housing funds must honor their commitments to accommodate people with disabilities,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “Denying people with disabilities equal access to public housing deprives one of the most disadvantaged groups in society of fair housing opportunities.”
“This case alleges that the City of Los Angeles repeatedly violated the law by falsely certifying that millions of federal dollars were being used to build housing that included units accessible to people with disabilities,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Sandra R. Brown for the Central District of California. “While people with disabilities struggled to find accessible housing, the city and its agents denied them equal access to housing while falsely certifying the availability of such housing to keep the dollars flowing. The conduct alleged in this case is very troubling because of the impact on people who did not have access to housing that met their needs.”
“This case demonstrates the important role whistleblowers play in the process of uncovering waste, fraud, and abuse,” said HUD Inspector General David A. Montoya. “It further displays our commitment to fully pursue allegations that are brought to our attention.”
The lawsuit, United States ex rel. Ling, et al. v. City of Los Angeles, et al., No. CV11-00974 (PG), was filed in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles by Mei Ling, a resident of Los Angeles who uses a wheelchair, and the Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley, a nonprofit civil rights advocacy group. The lawsuit was filed under the qui tam or whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act, which permit private parties to sue on behalf of the United States when they believe that a party has submitted false claims for government funds, and to receive a share of any recovery. The False Claims Act permits the government to intervene in such a lawsuit, as it has done in this case.
The claims asserted against the City of Los Angeles and the CRA/LA are allegations only; there has been no determination of liability.
Source: Dept. of Justice