CRA/LA has agreed to pay $3.1 million to resolve allegations that its predecessor agency violated the False Claims Act by knowingly failing to comply with accessibility laws when it financed and assisted in the development of affordable housing in the city of Los Angeles supported by federal funds, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Thursday.
CRA/LA is the successor of the Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles, a local redevelopment agency that financed and assisted in the development of multifamily affordable housing using local tax monies and federal community development grants. In June 2011, the State of California dissolved all redevelopment agencies. CRA/LA is winding down the affairs of its predecessor.
The settlement “demonstrates our continuing vigilance to ensure that developers receiving federal grant money for affordable housing satisfy their legal obligations to make such housing accessible to people with disabilities,” said Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt for the DOJ’s Civil Division.
“Grant recipients who knowingly discriminate against people with disabilities using taxpayer money will face serious consequences,” he said.
The settlement resolves claims against CRA/LA in a lawsuit alleging that the CRA/LA’s predecessor, along with the city of Los Angeles, received money from the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development based on false claims they were complying with federal accessibility laws. As to the CRA/LA’s predecessor, the United States’ lawsuit alleged at least nine multifamily housing properties fell significantly short of federal accessibility laws since 2005.
Examples of alleged defects included:
— slopes and ramps too steep for people in wheelchairs;
— tall thresholds restricting wheelchair access;
— kitchen cabinets, shelves and surfaces outside the accessible reach range of people in wheelchairs;
— sinks, grab bars and mailboxes mounted outside the accessible reach range of people in wheelchairs;
— uninsulated pipes below sinks and lavatories;
— a lack of accessible parking spaces; and
— insufficient visual alarms and tactile signs for people with hearing and visual impairments.
The United States’ claims against the city of Los Angeles have not been resolved and are still pending in the litigation.
The new agreement partially resolves a 2017 lawsuit filed in Los Angeles federal court by Mei Ling, a Los Angeles resident who uses a wheelchair, and the Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley, a nonprofit civil rights advocacy group.
The lawsuit was filed under the qui tam or whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act, which permit private parties to sue on behalf of the United States when they believe that a party has submitted false claims for government funds, and to receive a share of any recovery. The False Claims Act permits the government to intervene in such a lawsuit, as it has done in this case.
“Despite millions of dollars of federal taxpayer money sent to Los Angeles to create affordable housing over many years, the CRA opted to lie about its failure to ensure that these projects were accessible to everyone,” said U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna for the Central District of California. “This settlement resolves only a small portion of this case, and we are prepared to litigate additional allegations that the city of Los Angeles covered up its failure to comply with federal laws enacted to protect the civil rights of all citizens.”
General Counsel Paul Compton of HUD said the case demonstrates his agency’s commitment “to holding recipients of federal funds accountable for their failure to comply with HUD’s accessibility requirements. We will continue to collaborate with our partners at the Department of Justice to ensure that HUD participants provide accessible housing to individuals with disabilities.”
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