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CES In The News
 
Los Angeles Times
Friday April 10, 2009

Lancaster Proposes Limiting Section 8 Housing
Amendments to the city's rental ordinance would allow business licenses to be withheld from landlords who want to rent to such tenants. Affordable housing advocates condemn the plan.

Ann Simmons
 

Determined to slash the number of Section 8 renters in Lancaster, officials are proposing amendments to the city's rental housing ordinance that would allow business licenses to be withheld from landlords who want to rent to low-income tenants with federal vouchers.

Officials contend that there are more than 2,300 residential units occupied by Section 8 tenants in their city, about 12% of the total number of vouchers administered by the Housing Authority of Los Angeles County. The federal program provides rental subsidies for the needy.

"We would not give out any new licenses for Section 8" under the new ordinance, said Vice Mayor Ronald D. Smith. "We would at least like to stem the tide. All we want is a fair and equitable share."

Last year, Smith wrote to U.S. Reps. Howard "Buck" McKeon and Kevin McCarthy, Republicans who represent the Antelope Valley, requesting help in appealing to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development for approval to amend the city's business license ordinance for rental housing.

The amended ordinance would bar licenses for landlords who intend to rent residential property to Section 8 voucher-holders. It would not affect existing Section 8 landlords and tenants.

Officials at the county's Housing Authority acknowledged that Lancaster has the highest number of Section 8 contracts, out of the 20,095 federal contracts administered countywide. But they put the number at 2,100, or 10% of the county's contracts.

Maria Badrakhan, acting assistant executive director for the Housing Authority, declined to comment on any potential legal implications regarding Lancaster's proposal. But, she said, "there are federal fair housing laws that need to be considered."

She also rebutted allegations by Lancaster officials that her agency was actively encouraging Section 8 voucher-holders to move to Lancaster, stressing that "federal law does not allow us to steer folks anywhere."

More than 100,000 people are on the waiting list for Section 8 vouchers in L.A. County, Badrakhan said. Lancaster is an attractive location because of "the affordability, the quality of housing and the willingness of landlords to participate in the [Section 8] program," she said.

Several affordable housing advocates and landlord groups condemned the city's proposal, particularly when the number of homeless in the county is estimated at about 73,000.

Lancaster's proposal is an "out-and-out attack on low-income people," said Larry Gross, executive director of the L.A.-based Coalition for Economic Survival, a tenants rights group. "They are putting up a sign on the borders of Lancaster saying that poor people are not welcome here."

James Clarke, executive director of the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles, which represents about 25,000 owners and managers of rental properties, called Lancaster's proposal "outrageous." He said the vacancy rate for rentals in L.A. County had gone from 3% to 8% in the last six months.

"There are empty apartments, and landlords who want to fill these apartments would be more than willing to rent to Section 8, because they are guaranteed the rent," Clarke said.

Lindsey Mask, McKeon's communications director, said in a written response that the congressman had asked HUD "to look into giving the city of Lancaster more flexibility in certifying which property owners are allowed to rent their property to Section 8 voucher tenants."

Nick Bouknight, a spokesman for McCarthy, said the congressman was also helping Lancaster to "research options so that they can find the best course of action that works for our neighborhoods."

Norm Hickling, L.A. County Supervisor Mike Antonovich's field deputy for the Antelope Valley, said the county would not support any program specifically targeting the business licenses of potential Section 8 landlords.

Vice Mayor Smith said the large number of foreclosures in the city has resulted in potential investors snapping up the properties and converting them to Section 8 rentals. The increase in federal voucher tenants has placed a large burden on the city's social services and contributed to crime, he said.

"While the intent of Section 8 was well-meaning, it is a failed program," Smith said. "It has turned into an abused system. We are trying to clean up the program so that our neighborhoods are safe."

Meanwhile, the city is also considering making Section 8 landlords pay for expenses incurred for policing their rental units. And investigators would start tracking Section 8 renters who break the rules of their contracts, and push for their vouchers to be revoked, officials said.

"If you use Section 8 for what it was intended for, and you want to come to Lancaster, that's fine," Smith said. If not, "we're going to track you down, we're going to find you and we're going to send you packing."


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