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Pasadena Orders Housing Project Probe : Discrimination: City staff will try to obtain documents related to racial bias allegations made by tenants of the low-income King's Villages.


PASADENA — The Board of Directors has launched an investigation into tenants' allegations of racial discrimination at King's Villages housing project in Northwest Pasadena.

The board on Tuesday ordered city staff members to obtain records belonging to the project owner, Goldrich, Kest & Associates, and managing partner, Thomas Pottmeyer & Co., to determine if racial discrimination has occurred at the low-income housing project.

In addition, the board ordered city staff members to secure records from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which annually inspects the project for compliance under the federal Section 8, low-income rental regulations.

"They promised not to discriminate," City Director Rick Cole said of the King's Villages owners. "We've been told by people coming down here that there is discrimination. I'd like to get to the bottom of this."

The discrimination complaints come from members of the King's Villages Tenants Union Organization. De-Vera Joe, the group's president, claims that since Pottmeyer took over management in 1988, not one black tenant has been admitted to the complex.

Instead, Pottmeyer has filled vacancies at the complex with Latinos who do not speak English, Joe said. These new, non-English speaking tenants are subjected to higher rents, harassment and intimidation by the management, she claimed.

"The complex has gone almost 50% Hispanic in one year," Joe said. "That's what we're telling the board: They're discriminating."

However, Thomas Pottmeyer on Wednesday denied Joe's allegations, saying that both blacks and Latinos have been admitted to the project under his management. About 25% of the 313-unit project's tenants are Latino, he said, a change from the past when virtually all of the residents were black. He denied that Latinos pay higher rents or are harassed, saying that he has followed HUD regulations concerning waiting lists and the setting of rents.

"They regularly audit everything we do," Pottmeyer said of HUD. "One of the things they audit is whether we are following nondiscriminatory practices. . . . The city is not going to find anything on this (alleged) discrimination."

Pottmeyer said city officials have not yet contacted him about the investigation. He said his firm will not turn over any records to the city unless he receives HUD permission to do so.

For months, tenant union members have been trying to obtain records in hopes of substantiating their claims. They appealed to the Board of Directors for action after they were refused tenant waiting lists and rental payment information from Pottmeyer, Joe said.

Although housing discrimination complaints are normally investigated and prosecuted under state and federal laws, City Manager Donald McIntyre told the board Tuesday that the city has some authority to investigate King's Villages.

That is because the city took possession of the project in 1982, after HUD foreclosed on the property. Later that year, the city sold the project to Goldrich, Kest, a Culver City-based company with 10,000 HUD projects in California. A city-company agreement prohibited Goldrich, Kest from discriminating in renting the units. It also gave the city the right to review rental records and other documents, McIntyre reported.

City officials offered no specific plans for action if the investigation turns up evidence of discrimination, but Cole suggested it might be cause for the city to take the property back from Goldrich, Kest.

The privately owned, 26-acre housing project on Fair Oaks Avenue has been the object of tenant complaints of poor maintenance for most of the past year. The complaints prompted the board in February to order a $20,000 unit-by-unit inspection for compliance with city building, health and fire codes. The results are being prepared.

Tenants also complained about what they claimed was bullying behavior by security guards at the complex. Their allegations were given more attention after a confrontation with security guards on Jan. 18 resulted in the death of 28-year-old Robert Earl Holloway.

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