For months, the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale have been the focus of complaints and a civil rights lawsuit alleging that city officials and city housing investigators harass minority residents on public housing assistance in an effort to drive them out. Now officials in Lancaster have turned the tables, filing a housing discrimination complaint against the Los Angeles County Housing Authority saying that it is the county, which oversees the Section 8 housing aid program, that is in fact causing the problems.
According to the city's complaint, the housing authority engages in "racial steering" of low-income African American recipients of housing aid into Lancaster, an Antelope Valley city in the northern stretches of the county, without making them aware of the city's overburdened healthcare system or the limited employment opportunities in the area. As a result, the complaint contends, 70% of residents in Lancaster using Section 8 housing vouchers are black, and their migration into Lancaster has, according to Mayor R. Rex Parris, caused demographics to change and neighborhoods to reach a racial tipping point. Once integrated neighborhoods, he says, are now increasingly segregated.
The city of Lancaster does have more Section 8 residents than any other city or town under the jurisdiction of the county housing authority. But county housing officials say that is not their doing. People who receive Section 8 vouchers are free to go wherever they want (although not all communities offer the sort of housing that would be affordable under the program's formulas). And federal regulations bar county officials from pushing recipients toward any particular community, or even discussing its pros and cons, according to Emilio Salas, deputy executive director of the county housing agency.