Lancaster Mayor Rex Parris accused of overstepping boundaries
Section 8 residents targeted
LANCASTER, Calif.—A few weeks ago Mayor R. Rex Parris said something at a Lancaster City Council meeting that rubbed some residents the wrong way. He asked a representative of the Department of Housing, if there is or could be a law instituted that would revoke Section 8 vouchers from parents whose minor children are not attending school. From there the backlash began.
V. Jesse Smith of The Community Action League (TCAL) responded by saying, “If Parris wants to do that for Section 8 residents, he has to do it for everyone … They should be monitoring his house as well.”
Last Thursday morning, members of TCAL and the Antelope Valley Human Relations Task Force denounced Parris’ statements, and brought to the community’s attention the unfavorable slant the media has taken against Section 8 residents.
“We would like to see that Section 8 folks get a better (portrayal from the media) that they are law abiding citizens and shouldn’t be classified or demonized,” said Smith. He added that because of the media’s seemingly biased representation of Section 8 residents, community members live in fear and have become resentful toward public housing citizens within the Antelope Valley.
Smith and his activist peers have been fighting long and hard to eradicate the persistent negative images of Section 8 residents.
He says the problems really began, when Parris became the mayor the first time in 2008. According to Smith, the mayor has been attempting to bulldoze the program since he took office.
“When Parris became mayor, he correlated Section 8 with the increase in crime, coupled with the media plastering Section 8 over the front page with Black faces,” he said. “I know White people are caught (abusing the system), but they are never put on the front page of the paper. It’s always a person of color, which subsequently puts in the minds of residents that it’s Black people abusing the system.”
On Nov. 6, TCAL hosted a closed meeting for Section 8 residents from all backgrounds. The group brought in law students from UCLA and attorneys from Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County (NLS).
Smith said the most preeminent issues among tenants dealt with unannounced visits from inspectors and investigators, compliance checks, law enforcement officers abusing their power at housing locations and even in the streets, and losing their vouchers.
A few attendees complained that officers have pulled them over and questioned either them or their children, if they live in Section 8 housing.
“TCAL’s role is to serve as an advocate for the people, a mouth piece for Section 8 residents. They are inhibited from speaking out for fear of retaliation from authorities,” Smith said. “TCAL is certainly understanding and sensitive to the fact that there are people who are abusing the system. We, in . . . form or fashion support that behavior. We will not serve as an advocate for them.”
The Neighborhood Legal Services offices distribute a brochure that gives tenants some tips on how to keep their vouchers:
1. Report all household members
2. Avoid illegal drug activity
3. No violent criminal activity
4. Report all income
5. Report changes in your family
6. Report past criminal activity
7. Make accurate rental payments
8. Keep appointments and submit all paperwork on time
9. Keep good relationships with your landlord and neighbors
10. Get legal help.
Regarding compliance checks, residents have often said their rights have been violated, when inspectors come in with Sheriff’s deputies.
According to the NLS, the Housing Authority does not have the right to come into your home, if you are not told in advance and in writing that they are coming. You have the right to refuse them entrance.
Among other problems brought up was that representatives have been known to present paperwork to tenants upon arrival. It is your right as a Section 8 resident to take time to read the documents and sign them or refuse to sign them. Also ask for a copy, advises NLS.
When inspectors come with an officer in tow, ask the officer, if he has a warrant. If the officer does not, you do not have to let him in. Probation and parole officers are permitted to enter your home, if a parolee or probationer is visiting or living in your home.
For legal advice and to find more information about your housing rights, call the NLS at (800) 433-6251. The Antelope Valley Self-Help Legal Access Center also empowers individuals to file claims and access legal information. The office is located at the Michael D. Antonovich Los Angeles County Superior Court in Lancaster. The UCLA School of Law is also offering services for Section 8 residents. Contact the group at (661) 524-7722.
The Lancaster City Council is expected to vote on Dec. 11 on whether to appoint Cassandra D. Harvey to the council to replace Ron Smith, who was elected to the California State Assembly.
If approved, Harvey would be sworn in and take the seat that day and finish out the remainder of Smith’s term until April 2014.
She would also be the first African American woman to sit on the city’s governing body.
Harvey was nominated by Mayor R. Rex Parris.
PALMDALE—An agreement reached in a discrimination lawsuit between city officials and representatives of Antelope Valley residents who are part of the Section 8 Choice Voucher program is now in the hands of the federal judge overseeing the suit.
The agreement was reached last week, a week after the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a similar agreement.
The judge will now have an opportunity to vet the settlements, and when approved, they will go into effect immediately.
PALMDALE, Calif.—The Community Action League, a civil rights organization native to the Antelope Valley, has been hard on the issue of Section 8 for the past year or so. Last week, the organization held a forum, helping outraged residents share stories of what they felt was discrimination in their publicly funded homes.
Since TCAL, along with the NAACP, filed a lawsuit against the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale, more people have come forward with stories that include police brutality and civil rights violations.
LANCASTER, Calif.—At last week’s Lancaster City Council meeting, Mayor R. Rex Parris asked Dorian Jenkins, deputy executive director of housing programs with the Community Development Commission of the County of Los Angeles, if there was a way to confiscate Section 8 vouchers from tenants who did not enroll their children in school. He asked Jenkins if he would look into federal enforcement of state laws requiring children to attend school. Parris said that it would be beneficial for the whole community.
LANCASTER, Calif.—Tuesday night, the City Council Chamber was filled with an ethnically diverse group of Lancaster residents and an unusual number of Sheriff’s deputies lined the back wall of the room.
City officials proposed Ordinance No. 953 two weeks ago in response to suspected gang-related shootings and supposed intimidation within the community.