by Lynda Carson
In a court ruling that affects thousands of poor Section 8 tenants in Oakland, San Francisco, Berkeley, Richmond, Alameda County, Marin County, Contra Costa County, and millions of other tenants across the nation, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals declared that the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles illegally cut subsidies to thousands of Section 8 renters.
During 2004, the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) cut Section 8 housing subsidies for about 20,000 low-income residents without giving proper notice in advance, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals declared on November 30, 2015.
The Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program provides rental assistance to the most vulnerable members of our nation, including woman with children, the elderly, and disabled. Section 8 renters generally pay 30 to 40 percent of the rent to the landlord, and sometimes more, and the housing program pays the rest.
For households who are living in poverty on a fixed income, and households living paycheck to paycheck, any unexpected decrease in their housing subsidies can result in homelessness. This is why the program contains procedural protections designed to ensure that beneficiaries have at least a full year to plan for cutbacks to their rental subsidies.
The cutbacks generally result in rental increases that Section 8 tenants cannot afford, and even with an advance notice of one year, poor families often become homeless because of funding cuts to their Section 8 vouchers.
The three-judge panel agreed with the plaintiffs in this case that the Housing Authority reduced the amount of Section 8 beneficiaries’ subsidies without providing a proper adequate notice, in violation of federal and state law. Additionally, the court reversed the grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants, and directed that summary judgment be entered in favor of the plaintiffs.
According to court documents, the Housing Authority failed to provide comprehensible information to Section 8 beneficiaries about the payment standard change and its effect one year in advance of the change’s implementation.
Section 8 tenants Michael Nozzi and Nidia Pelaez, along with the Los Angeles Coalition To End Hunger And Homelessness, sued the Housing Authority for illegally cutting the subsidies for about 20,000 Section 8 households.
The illegal cutbacks to the rental subsidies for the poor Section 8 tenants resulted in many elderly and disabled residents, including families with young children, paying much higher rents that averaged around $104 more per month, the court said.
Because the court ruled in favor of the Section 8 tenants in the class action suit brought by the Los Angeles Coalition To End Hunger And Homelessness, Barrett Litt, an attorney for the recipients, said damages would run in the millions.
“This decision should not only lead to compensation for the tens of thousands of Los Angeles Section 8 recipients that were hurt by the illegal reduction in benefits going back in 2004-2006, but also protects all Section 8 recipients going forward, wherever they may be,” Litt said.
It took eight years of litigation for yesterday’s ruling to occur, and according to reports, the attorney representing the Housing Authority said he will recommend appealing the decision to a larger panel of the Ninth Circuit, and if necessary all the way to the U. S. Supreme Court.
The Section 8 Voucher Program, presently called the Housing Choice Voucher Program, has become the dominant form of federal housing assistance across the nation. With more than 5 million people in 2.1 million low-income families that are currently using vouchers to subsidize their rents, it is a very successful program.
However, the successful program has been unfairly under attack by Republicans for many years, and has faced many funding cuts in recent years as a result of sequestration budget cuts, including additional cuts that occurred from 2004 to 2006, under the Bush administration. Cuts to HUD’s subsidized housing programs have taken place as a result of votes by Republicans, and Democrats through the years.
Presently, it is a very uncertain future for Section 8 tenants and public housing tenants. Public housing units are being privatized under the RAD program, and all of HUD’s subsidized housing programs have faced budget cuts, with the Republicans willing to shut down the federal government in order to have it their way.
Recently, Senator Rand Paul blocked a funding bill to fund HUD’s subsidized housing programs, essentially holding poor families across the nation hostage, until he gets what he wants out of the federal government.
According to records with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), in Los Angeles there are 49,671 Section 8 units in their inventory, with an additional 23,866 Section 8 units in Los Angeles County. San Francisco has 9,147 Section 8 units. Oakland has 13,424 Section 8 units. Richmond has 1,851 Section 8 units. Berkeley has 1,935 Section 8 units. Alameda has 1,845 Section 8 units. Alameda County has 6,273 Section 8 units. Marin County has 2,153 Section 8 units. Contra Costa County has 6,876 Section 8 units.
Lynda Carson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org