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Housing authority hit with federal lawsuits over Section 8

The troubled Southern Nevada Regional Housing Authority was hit with three federal lawsuits in the past three months over the same program — one that helps poor families pay rent.

All of the lawsuits allege the housing authority’s Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program violated federal law and individual civil rights by failing to provide notice and fair hearing to people dropped from the program.

One of the three lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court was settled with the plaintiff’s reinstatement to the Section 8 program, and the parties of another are in settlement talks. A fourth federal lawsuit filed in 2014 also was resolved this month with the plaintiff’s reinstatement to the program, according to attorneys.

Executive Director John Hill declined to comment on the spate of lawsuits. Some of the attorneys for the plaintiffs speculated that the program might be understaffed.

“We are hopeful that the housing authority can make some changes,” said Kristine Bergstrom, an attorney with Nevada Legal Services who is involved in one of the lawsuits. “We’ve had longstanding issues that they are not applying the law (Housing Fair Act) correctly.”

At least four more lawsuits involving the same program are pending in Clark County District Court.

Section 8 complaints

Families whose annual income don’t exceed 50 percent of the median income in Clark County are eligible to participate in Section 8. Those in the program pay 30 percent of their monthly income toward rent, and the subsidy covers the rest of their rent and utilities. Participants are able to rent in the private market.

According to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development standards, Clark County’s median income for 2015 is $59,200.

The latest lawsuit was filed Oct. 16 by Nevada Legal Services attorney Ron Sung and Bergstrom on behalf of Rhea Richardson, a former recipient of the Section 8 program.

Richardson’s housing subsidy was terminated Sept. 30 for failure to comply with inspections. The housing authority conducts annual housing quality standards inspections to ensure the units meet federal guidelines.

The lawsuit alleges she missed the first inspection because the housing authority inspector didn’t show up during the scheduled time frame and not because she wasn’t home.

Richardson missed the second inspection because she was never informed by the housing authority of the rescheduled date. She was denied an appeal and hearing because she never received notice of being dropped from the program in the mail, the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit alleges violation of the federal housing law for failure to provide notice and fair hearing.

Sung said Richardson’s case is similar to that of Amber Green, whose case was settled on Oct. 13 with her reinstatement to the program. He hopes Richardson’s case will have the same outcome.

The housing authority needs to change its policies, Sung said. If Section 8 tenants can’t be reached by mail, housing authority officials should try calling or knocking on doors, he said.

Maybe caseworkers “have too much on their plates” to do so, he added.

“Section 8 is inherently a flawed system,” Sung said. “They (the workers) don’t do their due diligence.”

On Sept. 1, a lawsuit was filed by Nevada Legal Services attorney Dawn Miller on behalf of Derek Lane. The lawsuit was settled on Sept. 17.

Lane’s case involved a notice of termination that was sent to an old address. His termination from the program was because of his eviction from his apartment, but according to the lawsuit, he vacated the unit after the landlord failed the housing authority’s inspection and didn’t make improvements.

Lane also was reinstated to the program. Perhaps Section 8 caseworkers need better supervision or guidelines, Miller suggested.

“There’s good reason for policies, but sometimes you need to look beyond the policies and look at each individual,” she said. “Sometimes they fail to do that.”

Reasonable accommodations

On Aug. 12, a lawsuit was filed by Nevada Legal Services attorneys David Olshan and Bergstrom on behalf of Alice Banks, who is disabled.

The claim alleges that in light of her disability and failing to accommodate her, federal laws were violated when Bank’s voucher was terminated. Banks suffers from lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease.

Bergstrom said the complaint is in settlement talks now but didn’t know when it will be resolved. She said the housing authority, under federal law, needs to make reasonable accommodations for the disabled.

Banks, who is elderly, had wanted to move out of her apartment and find a new one. She was issued a new voucher to look for another unit. Banks requested an extension to her voucher to find an apartment because she was recovering from heart surgery and couldn’t search for a new apartment. She requested a second extension, but the housing authority denied it, indicating it already had been extended once for her medical conditions. Banks ended up homeless, according to the lawsuit.

Contact Yesenia Amaro at yamaro@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3843. Find her on Twitter: @YeseniaAmaro.

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