The Government files Complaint to Recover Millions of Grant Dollars it says the City of L.A. and CRA/LA Obtained Improperly
Sometimes alleged fraud and abuse occur on a much greater scale than that which is caused by private companies. This was proven to be the case when earlier this month, the Justice Department filed a complaint against the City of Los Angeles and the CRA/LA alleging that the two fraudulently obtained millions of dollars in housing grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by falsely claiming that money was being spent in compliance with the government’s accessibility laws. The “complaint in intervention” replaces a complaint that was previously filed by a whistleblower. The complaint in intervention alleges that the city and CRA/LA received federal money by falsely promising to create accessible housing for the disabled. Instead of doing this, it is alleged that the two used the money to create inaccessible housing that actually deprived people with disabilities equal opportunity to housing of their choice.
According to the complaint, the city of L.A. repeatedly certified its compliance with federal accessibility laws in order to obtain federal funds even though it did not take the necessary steps to comply with said laws. Additionally, the complaint alleges that HUD-assisted apartment buildings provided by the city failed to meet even the minimal accessibility requirements. Among the items the city approved and which made the buildings fail to meet accessibility requirements are:
- slopes and ramps that were too steep for safe passage by persons with mobility disabilities;
- door thresholds that were too tall for wheelchairs to roll over;
- steps that prohibited access to common areas;
- sinks, grab bars, mailboxes and circuit breakers mounted beyond the reach of wheelchair users
“Despite the federal government investing hundreds of millions of dollars in Los Angeles to create housing for everyone, the City of Los Angeles instead created housing only for some,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Sandra R. Brown for the Central District of California. “For 17 years, the city falsely certified that it had complied with federal law and covered up its repeated disregard of historic and important civil rights laws.” The laws that the CRA/LA are alleged to have violated include Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (1973), the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) and the Fair Housing Act (1968). These laws were passed by Congress in order to ensure that people with disabilities have equal access to housing and that they are able to become integrated into the larger society.
The accessibility laws for which the city of L.A. and CRA/LA are required to comply, stipulate that recipients of federal funds must operate housing that is in compliance and that they must also:
- Develop non-discriminatory policies and practices, hire a coordinator knowledgeable about accessibility, and implement a grievance procedure that allows for just resolution of complaints.
- Maintain a publicly available list of accessible units and their accessibility features so that people who require those features are able to find housing.
The city of LA and CRA/LA are alleged to have violated all of these requirements and many others. The lawsuit was filed under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act. These provisions permit private parties to sue on behalf of the federal government and to share in any subsequent recovery.