By Jocelyn Y. Stewart
Times Staff Writer
Hundreds of Los Angeles residents who had faced the prospect of losing their federally subsidized apartment units will be allowed to remain in their homes under a settlement agreement reached between the city and the apartment owners.
The settlement brings an end to a lawsuit filed in August that sought to prevent the apartment owners from removing their properties from the program known as Section 8. Mayor James K. Hahn, who had urged the city attorney to file the lawsuit, called the settlement an "important precedent."
"We must protect the existing affordable housing stock as well as build new housing," Hahn said in a statement. "If the city is properly notified of landlords opting out of the Section 8 program, we can help find options to keep the units affordable and protect both the rights of the tenants and property owners."
The city filed the lawsuit against the owners of six apartment buildings amid growing concerns about the shortage of affordable housing in the city. Currently, housing experts say, about 8,000 Section 8 voucher holders are looking for housing. Many will not find units.
"Right now, less than half of the families we issue vouchers to are able to find housing with a willing landlord, in a building that will pass our inspection," said Steve Renahan, director of Section 8 for the city's housing authority.
Some building owners have left the program in recent years, seeking higher rents on the open market. Under Section 8, the federal government pays the bulk of a low-income tenant's rent.
The lawsuit had been filed against the owners of the six apartment buildings known as L.A. Pro VI, who had attempted to remove the buildings from the program. The removal would have forced tenants in various communities to move or pay market rates. Those units, in buildings scattered throughout South Los Angeles, would have no longer been designated for low-income tenants.
Property owners who intend to end their contracts with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development are required by state law to first notify their tenants, HUD, the housing authority and the mayor.
Arguing that the owners did not abide by the rule requiring proper notification, tenant advocates such as the Coalition for Economic Survival and the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles urged the local HUD office to deny the owners' application to withdraw the units from the federal program. Local HUD officials did not do so.
The city attorney filed suit to prevent the eviction of low-income families, seniors and people with disabilities. The settlement, recently approved by Superior Court Judge Judith Chirlin, allows tenants to remain in their units unless lawfully evicted for violating the lease.
In addition, the owners have agreed to accept Section 8 tenants in 92 additional units in the Westlake area that currently are rented at market rate.
"That's important to us now because the rental market in L.A. is quite tight," Renahan said. "Access to additional units is a benefit for Section 8 participants who have nothing to do with L.A. Pro VI."
City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo said the case demonstrates the city's willingness to use "all legal means available to protect the rights of those living in low-income housing. "We will continue to work together to find creative solutions to the housing shortage in Los Angeles by protecting the rights of tenants and increasing the availability of low-income housing in our city," he said in a statement.