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U.S. ends probe of Lancaster after NAACP drops bias complaint

The rights group, which now plans a suit, charged that deputies and housing investigators were used to drive minority residents from government-subsidized homes.

June 20, 2012|By Ann M. Simmons, Los Angeles Times

The National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People has withdrawn a discrimination complaint against the city of Lancaster, leading federal housing officials to end an almost yearlong investigation into housing practices in the High Desert municipality.

The complaint alleged that officials used housing investigators, who are partially funded by Los Angeles County, and Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies in a campaign to drive primarily minority residents from government-subsidized housing.

On Tuesday, NAACP attorney Gary Blasi said the complaint was withdrawn so the organization could focus on a similar civil suit against the city. "It was becoming more of a distraction," Blasi said of the complaint.

In a letter to Lancaster officials, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said its closure of the inquiry was "not a determination of the merits of the allegations contained in the complaint."

In written remarks, Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris welcomed the development and criticized the complaint as being "divisive" and "nonproductive."

In February, Palmdale, which was initially also named in the NAACP lawsuit, agreed to settle but admitted no wrongdoing.

Lancaster, meanwhile, filed a complaint against Los Angeles County and its housing authority, alleging that the agency unlawfully favors African Americans in granting vouchers under Section 8 of the Federal Housing Act.

City officials argue that at least 70% of Lancaster's housing subsidy recipients are African American, compared with about 14% who are Latino. Yet blacks account for a little more than 20% of Lancaster's 157,000 residents, while Latinos make up about 38%.

Sean Rogan, executive director of Community Development Commission/Housing Authority of the County of Los Angeles, said his agency was notified in May that HUD's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity would not be investigating Lancaster's complaint.

Blasi, who is also a law professor at UCLA, urged Lancaster to join Palmdale and the county "in making sure all its residents feel safe in their homes and their community."

"We want to again extend a hand to Lancaster leaders to renounce the harassment of black and Latino families and move ahead as one community," Blasi said.

ann.simmons@latimes.com

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