Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris, the chief spokesman for the notion that the… (Los Angeles Times )
After months of contentious dispute over whether the city of Lancaster was discriminating against minority residents who receive public housing assistance, city officials and civil rights groups have reached an official agreement. The NAACP and the Community Action League have dropped a lawsuit alleging that the city was harassing black and Latino residents holding Section 8 vouchers in an effort to drive them out. In exchange, Lancaster officials have agreed to make it clear that the city does not condone discrimination against Section 8 renters, most of whom are black and Latino. A community working group of city officials and civil rights representatives will be formed to review Lancaster ordinances that might adversely affect either residents on public housing or the landlords who rent to them.
This agreement is a good starting point for the community, which has been caught up in the bitter debate over the Section 8 controversy. (Just read the comments on local Lancaster media websites.) Even more promising is that Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris, the chief spokesman for the notion that the city was overburdened by Section 8 renters, said he wanted to work with civil rights groups on housing and apologized for not reaching out to them sooner. At a news conference, Parris literally wrapped his arms around civil rights leaders.
Nothing would please us more than if Parris' change in tone is a lasting change of heart. It helps that Lancaster and Palmdale no longer employ their own separate — and overzealous — housing investigators who sometimes arrived at Section 8 residents' doors with posses of sheriff's deputies for surprise compliance checks. (Palmdale, named in the lawsuit, settled earlier this year.) What Parris and civil rights groups must do now is help Section 8 residents to comply with the rigorous conditions of their aid and also dispel the public perception that these renters have no right to be there.
Parris says he still believes the county poorly administers the Section 8 program. But even he acknowledges that in Lancaster, where there is a glut of available housing, it's good for the city's economy to have many homes rented by Section 8 voucher holders. Everyone in Lancaster should work to put this debate behind them.